Rhein on Energy and Climate

After months of internal debate the Commission has presented EU climate goals for 2030. The green lobby has called them inadequate,while utilities, heavy industry and most member states are prepared to give their blessing.

Assuming that the European Council will endorse them at its June session, the EU will be the first group of countries to announce its cards for the decisive 2014-15 international climate conferences in Lima and Paris.

What matters there will be commitments from all countries to lower their green house gas emissions, high-income countries at higher rates than emerging ones. So far the EU has been the only the group of countries to effectively decree and implement significant reductions of emissions.

The USA has done so too, by replacing coal through gas for power generation, but not by legislation. Australia, Canada, Russia have given no sign for any reductions of their emissions. And China, which boasts of big efforts in renewable energies, has only slowed the pace of increase of its emissions, through raising the level of energy efficiency.

By implementing the Commission targets until 2030 the EU will emit only 60 per cent of what it had emitted in 1990! It can be proud of this unique achievement. Still, its contribution to the global climate will be negligible because of its declining share in global emissions to some 12 per cent!

Globally it will therefore no matter if the EU were to adopt even more ambitious targets, as Greenpeace (45 per cent of the 1990 emissions) calls for.

Nor are mandatory commitments for the share of renewable sources sensible.

The proposal for a “mandatory” 27 per cent target (of overall energy consumption (!) for the EU as a whole and annual action plans for each member state is not ambitious but reasonable.

There is no point expanding the capacities of solar and wind too rapidly if the grid and storage capacities do not follow. It is rather appropriate to slow down the build-up of further generation capacities and put the emphasis on building European-wide grids to transport the wind and solar power across the continent.

A substantial reduction of the “guaranteed” subsidies, especially in Germany, which will must spend more than € 25 billion annually for its over-generous “feed-in” tariffs for many years to come, is overdue to keep electricity prices at reasonable levels and conserve the competitiveness of energy intensive industries.

Even if this does not please the fledgling European renewable power industries, subsidies on renewable energies must be phased out, the sooner the better.

The EU has done well to substantially increase research expenditures for renewables until 2020. It desperately needs a strategy for the storage of solar and wind power to ensure a perfectly reliable electricity supply .

Energy efficiency matters at least as much as renewable sources to reduce C02 emissions. Here the Commission has been too discreet. A multiannual renovation programme for the building stock – which is Europe`s biggest energy consumer and C02 emitter- would be helpful both for reducing emissions and creating jobs.

The Commission should submit appropriate proposals when it comes to the implementation of the targets.

Additional reductions of the emission allowances for utilities and heavy industries may not be enough and difficult to impose.

The tougher emission standards for passenger cars to come into effect in the early 2020s will not carry enough weight.

In conclusion, Europeans do not step back from climate goals. But they shift the emphasis away from the excessive build up of renewable energies which has proved too expensive relative to the impact on the climate.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 23/01/2014


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