By Christopher Hopson in London
Friday, March 21 2014
Updated: Friday, March 21 2014
The European Council’s two-day summit chiefly focused on events in Ukraine, but the EU’s efforts to curb climate change were also high on the agenda.
European Commission (EC) proposals for a 27% renewables goal for the EU as a whole, with no individual national objectives, were supported by leaders of major nations.
But a final endorsement of a new framework was put off until October this year "at the latest" while negotiations attempt to get sceptical countries in Eastern Europe fully onside.
“We discussed the 27% target. We would have liked more, but 27% is okay,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel. “It will take a few more months to get an agreement on the climate and energy package, but I am guardedly optimistic we will get there.”
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) took some comfort from a last-minute insertion of the need for “a supportive EU framework” for renewables into the council’s conclusions, and said the additional months could give supportive nations time to fight clean-energy's corner.
Critics have called the EC proposals “toothless” and a “major disappointment”, warning that they will undermine investment in renewable technologies.
They argue that a 27% target, non-binding at national level, would not incentivise any renewables generation over and above that triggered by the proposed 40% goal for greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, around which there is more of a consensus.
Leading renewable associations had strongly urged the leaders to set their sights higher and vote for a 30% nationally binding renewables target as the best way to promote green growth, jobs and industrial leadership.
Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, which represents 88 of Europe’s largest investors worth €7.5trn, says:“The decision by EU leaders to delay an agreement on the EU’s climate policies will delay much-needed low-carbon energy investment.
“Investors cannot plan complex, long-term investments on the basis of proposals alone. They need policies in place. New energy investment is crucial to securing Europe’s energy security and measures which deliver this investment should be a priority for EU policymakers.
“Delay will also make it more difficult for Europe to play a leadership role at the UN global climate summit in September. Investors will need to see a real sense of urgency and an ambitious climate agreement in the coming months if they are to be re-assured that the EU is committed to a low-carbon future.”
A draft document prepared ahead of the summit had called on the Commission to present by June a comprehensive plan to reduce EU energy dependence.
As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks debated the EU's "indigenous supplies", which include renewables. But the discussions focused far more heavily on gas than on renewables.
They also underlined the need for energy efficiency and to build better cross-border links to share resources, control costs and develop EU capacity to pump gas to Ukraine should it need help.
A British discussion paper, circulated among member states, listed a range of options, including intensifying talks on the export of Iraqi gas, via pipeline to Europe, and examining how to "facilitate" gas exports from the US as part of trade talks with the EU.
EU officials expect to raise this issue during US President Barack Obama's visit to Brussels next week, although analysts caution that any US gas exported would be more likely to head to Asia rather than Europe because prices there are higher.
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