Commission sets moderate greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030

Joint Press conference by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (second from right), Günther Oettinger (second from left) and Connie Hedegaard (first from right), members of the EC, on the launch of the EU framework on Climate and Energy for 2030, in the presence of Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen, Spokesperson of the EC. (EC Audiovisual Services, 22/1/2014).

Joint Press conference by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (second from right), Günther Oettinger (second from left) and Connie Hedegaard (first from right), members of the EC, on the launch of the EU framework on Climate and Energy for 2030, in the presence of Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen, Spokesperson of the EC. (EC Audiovisual Services, 22/1/2014).

Yesterday, the European Commission took the middle, not ambitious path, on the burning issue of climate protection. It chose to propose rather conservative targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and energy production from renewable resources, easy to achieve and not demanding extra efforts in the investments front. To this effect, early yesterday, José Manuel Barroso, Commission President, Günther Oettinger, Member of the EC in charge of Energy, and Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner in charge of Climate Action, gave a joint press conference on the launch of the EU framework on Climate and Energy for 2030.

They announced the Commission proposal for the 2030 climate and energy goals, involving a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% below the 1990 level and an EU-wide binding target for renewable energy of at least 27%. While the targets are binding for the EU as a whole, the Commission didn’t propose individual benchmarks for member states. There will be, however, a scoreboard monitoring the achievements of every member state.

The EU heads of states and governments can change the targets during their meeting in early March. However, well-informed sources in Brussels say there won’t be any changes, because the Commission proposals are a good compromise and seem to suit all member states governments. The relevant Regulation is planned to be finally adopted towards the end of the year.

Ambitious member states

However, in view of the European elections in May, some member state governments may adopt more ambitious targets for their countries. This possibility is facilitated by the conservative EU target setting at 40% gas emission reduction. This is not just an allegation. As the developments during the past few years proved, the 2020 EU target for a 20% emission reduction, which was set in 2007, was quite easily achieved towards the beginning of 2013. Of course, these developments didn’t come out of the sector’s worries about the wold climate change. The cheap imports of Chinese solar panels played an important role in this. But it was much more than that. Huge subsidies were paid by many member states to renewable energy production and installation construction projects.

If the present regime of super generous subsidies on energy production from renewable resources continues for some time, the 2030 targets could be probably achieved much earlier than that. The problem is however, that the subsidies have started to increasingly weigh on government and consumer budgets and their continuation is questioned by many. In any case the early and easy achievement of the 2020 targets, shows beyond reasonable doubt that the subsidies accorded to renewables were to a large extent free gifts. In fact, in many member states like Greece and Germany a party is still going on, not always in broad day light, around the construction of solar parks and their licensing.

Generous subsidies

The generous arrangements around the 2020 targets and the over generous initial gas emission rights issuance, also led to the collapse of the price of those rights in late 2012. This was a direct effect of the early and comfortable achievement of the 20% reduction target. Now the Commission contemplates a new system of emission rights trading scheme, to avoid the excess offer of rights by an automatic withdrawal of licences.

Yesterday, Commission President Manuel Barroso commented that “An ambitious 40% greenhouse reduction target for 2030 is the most cost-effective milestone in our path towards a low-carbon economy. And the renewables target of at least 27% is an important signal: to give stability to investors, boost green jobs and support our security of supply”. Energy Commissioner Oettinger said: “The 2030 framework is the EU’s drive for progress towards a competitive low-carbon economy, investment stability and security of energy supply”.

Connie Hedegaard, Commissioner for Climate Action was much more to the point than her two colleagues. She has already been shaken by the collapse of the emission trading system and cannot afford now a new gaffe. She perfectly understands that everybody knows that the targets are not that ambitious nor do they pose any problem to any part of the energy sector. On the contrary, they offer lucrative investment opportunities. That’s why she said “In spite of all those arguing that nothing ambitious would come out of the Commission today, we did it. A 40% emissions reduction is the most cost-effective target for the EU and it takes account of our global responsibility. And of course Europe must continue its strong focus on renewables”.

European leadership

A careful observer will discern that all the three representatives of the Commission are very much concerned about the investments on renewables. Of course, all depend on what the industry believes about the targets and the means. But it’s more than certain that all three of them already knew what the industry opinion is, and it was not at all bad news. Of course, the industry didn’t know exactly what the targets will be, but it had already informed the Commission about their positions. In any case, everybody was expecting anything between 35% and 40%. But in such cases round numbers are the best choice, as a result some had predicted the 40%.

In this way, Europe retains the absolute prerogative in the fight against climate change. Others, richer or poorer than Europe, are doing much less or rather produce much more polluting elements. The poor results of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference of 2013 stand witness to the European leadership on this account. It seems that in the future nothing will change in this world-wide arrangement.

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