Member states should step up and go beyond the bare minimum needed to reach the current 2030 targets for renewables and energy efficiency. Photo: Flickr.com / Mark Chinnick CC BY
Increasing renewable energy targets for the EU
The new European Commission needs to sprint towards climate action to be in line with the Paris Agreement. There is growing support for at least 55% emission reductions by 2030.
The climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges the EU and the world are facing today. The EU’s current energy and climate targets are alarmingly inadequate and need to be increased substantially to allow for an adequate response to the threat of climate change.
In October 2014, the EU leaders on the European Council agreed on the level of ambition for the EU 2030 climate and energy targets. A binding EU target of at least 40 per cent domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990) was adopted. For renewables, a target of at least 27 per cent was agreed. They also agreed on an energy efficiency target of 27 per cent (compared to projections of future energy consumption) with the possibility to increase the target to 30 percent after a review in 2020.
In November 2016, the European Commission proposed a package of legislation, called the “Clean Energy for All package”, which elaborated on the review of existing renewable energy and energy efficiency legislation to fit the agreed 2030 climate and energy policy framework. The package included proposals for a renewable energy EU target of at least 27 per cent and an energy efficiency EU target of 30 per cent for 2030. The European Parliament, which was underwhelmed by the level of ambition proposed, asked to increase both EU 2030 energy targets to at least 35 per cent. After intensive negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, in June 2018 the compromise reached was to set the EU renewable energy target to at least 32 per cent and the energy efficiency target to at least 32.5 per cent. The reviewed renewables and energy efficiency legislation, including these targets, was brought into force in December 2018.
Even though the 2030 EU energy targets were to some extent increased, the current ambition levels are far from sufficient. Through the Paris Agreement, in 2015 the world agreed to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. However, there is a serious gap between what countries, including the EU, promised under the Paris Agreement on the one hand and what they have so far committed to do on the other hand. This is also what EU citizens are demanding now. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of people, led by young people, have been taking to the streets to demand immediate and effective action to face the climate emergency. In addition, a recent poll shows that 93 per cent of Europeans believe that climate change is a “serious problem”, while 79 per cent see it as a “very serious problem” and 92 per cent demand that national governments step up their own targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy1.
Faced with the existential threat of devastating climate change impacts, the EU, its institutions and all member states need to prioritise urgent action addressing the climate emergency with the aim of implementing the Paris Agreement's ambition to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. This will in particular need a substantial increase in climate action in the short term, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero and substantially increasing the removal capacity of natural sinks within two decades.
This means that the current EU climate target – for a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – needs to be considerably increased. In order to contribute in an equitable way to the effort of meeting the Paris Agreement goals, the EU should achieve at least a 65 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. And with a more ambitious climate target, the 2030 energy targets also need to be raised.
At EU level, support is growing for a more ambitious 2030 EU climate target. The massive youth protests are urging governments to ramp up climate action, backed by growing political support to translate their hopes into concrete and immediate action. Over the last year the European Parliament and some member states have been calling for the EU’s 2030 climate target to be increased to at least 55 per cent. In July, President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen also called for a substantial increase of ambition in a bid to get approval as European Commission president. And more recently, the German chancellor also stated that she favours a 55 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases in the EU by 2030, alongside other member states and the European Parliament. The EU will need to increase its climate target well before the end of 2020 in order to meaningfully influence the discussions that are happening at the international level and within the process of the UN negotiations.
It is also vital that the EU not only increases its climate target but upscales its 2030 energy targets. The renewable energy and energy efficiency legislation agreed in 2018 already offers a starting point for raising ambition. Based on this legislation, member states are required to develop ten-year National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). These plans are an important basis for discussing and further elaborating on climate and energy targets and measures for 2030 and beyond. Member states should seize this opportunity to go beyond the bare minimum needed to reach the current 2030 targets and considerably increase the ambition of their plans, both in terms of targets and policies, in order to allow the EU to stick to its commitment under the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. This will prepare the ground for the swifter implementation of the increased level of ambition of the 2030 energy targets that will come to match the scale of climate action needed, also underpinned by the updating of all relevant climate and energy legislation.
Currently, the legislation states that the European Commission is to submit a legislative proposal by 2023 to revise the energy targets in the event that it is needed to meet the Union’s international commitments for decarbonisation. However, this proposal should come much faster considering the urgent action needed.
The EU long-term budget, currently under negotiation, should support member states in achieving higher ambition. To that end, member states need to show the political will and take the decision to put EU funds where they can catalyse the transition.
At the same time, Europe will need to act on its commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Member states will have to come up with plans for how they will implement this at the national level, while the Commission will have to make proposals for the reform of all fiscal policies to be aligned with the Paris Agreement goals. Currently the fossil fuel industry benefits from unfair tax breaks and other subsidies that are in conflict with the achievement of climate objectives.
Finally, investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure risks creating lock-in effects and stranded infrastructure assets. Investments in maintaining existing fossil fuel infrastructure also bar the way to a system switch towards energy savings and renewable energy sources. The EU’s energy infrastructure planning and financing must become Paris-compatible, thereby ensuring that this sector adequately contributes to the overall ambition to have a 100 per cent renewables-based energy system and achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
When unveiling the structure of the next European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen put climate policy up front as a top priority. There is little time left for the EU to fulfil its commitments made in the Paris Agreement. So it is high time for the EU to act and to take the lead on climate change. Increasing climate ambition will be the first and most important step of the next European Commission.
(Veerle Dossche and Theodora Petroula are energy policy experts and Wendel Trio is director of Climate Action Network Europe)
1 Special Eurobarometer 490 on Climate Change (publication date September 2019) with member-state-specific factsheets and Special Eurobarometer 492 on Energy (publication date September 2019) with member-state-specific factsheets.