Rhein on Energy and Climate

On the side-lines of last week’s European Council meeting, essentially devoted to resolving the financial crisis, heads of government clashed on EU climate policy.

Some heads of government tried to renege the 20 percent C02 reduction target for 2020 with the outrageous argument that they had not attended the March 2007 European Council Meeting, when the triple 20 percent targets (reduction, efficiency and share of renewables) had been adopted. If this sort of argument had been accepted it would no longer be possible for the European Council to take any credible commitments. That would be the end of the European Union!
Both the Council and the Commission President were therefore right in their insistence that there can be no question for the EU abandoning its basic commitments. The text of the Council Conclusions reflects this.

There is no reason whatever, neither the financial crisis nor the slowdown of economic activity, for the EU to back down from its ambitious climate targets for 2020.

  • 12 years should be plenty for every member state to reduce its C02 emissions by 20 percent, provided it focuses resolutely on energy efficiency and alternative sources, which the complaining states have failed to do so far.
  • Investing heavily in the modernisation of the energy sector is one the most effective way to confront slower economic growth.
  • Technologies for enhancing energy efficiency and investing in alternative energies like wind, solar, nuclear are readily available, and the cost of producing such energy is rapidly approaching that of fossil energies. Governments only have to give the right incentives to house owners to insulate their buildings and utilities to replace high-emission plants by more efficient ones.
  • Financing the necessary investments should not present major problems. The EIB stands ready to engage, and the new EU member countries will receive milliards of Euro from Structural Funds, which should be channelled to more climate-friendly use of energy.

One cannot help concluding that the eight protesting heads of government intervened only to extort some extra concessions from the EU or the more advanced member states in the difficult negotiations that will take place until December to settle the modalities of implementation.

It is unthinkable for the EU not to agree on an effective package at the European Council meeting in December. Failure to do so would make the EU the laughing stock of the world and put an end to its claim to be the most advanced group of countries towards the low carbon economy. The time presses, as the European Parliament will have to approve the complete legislative package before it dissolves in the spring of 2009.

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