EU 2030 Climate and Energy Package leaves unanswered questions

The recent European Commission Communication on a 2030 climate and energy package is high Brussels compromise that falls short of two important goals. It has failed to bring clarity to the energy sector and done little to address concerns that there still exists a significant discrepancy between EU policy goals, and scientific estimates on temperature rises.

The communication has been widely covered in the media and by various commentators in recent days. The headline numbers are straightforward – By 2030 the EU should cut emissions to 40% below 1990 levels. Renewables should provide no less than 27% of EU energy supply. These numbers are something of a departure from the current 20/20/20 targets which call for a 20% reduction in European carbon dioxide emissions on 1990 levels, a contribution of 20% renewables to the energy system and a 20% energy efficiency improvement, all by 2020. Within these targets, the UK is obliged to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix to 15%. After 2020, that country specific requirement is now gone.

The incumbent policy regime, announced in 2007, was clear to specify renewables targets for individual countries. This time around the Commission takes a hands-off approach allowing member states set their own target and taking energy efficiency numbers off the negotiating board completely.

Notable amongst the immediate commentary on the Communication was the lack of clear narrative explaining the new numbers. It attempts something of a sleight of hand, declaring the 20/20/20 targets almost met. “Much has been achieved” and “the EU is now well on track”. Perhaps, but the Commission fails to answer a simple question; have the 20/20/20 targets worked? Have they delivered the greatest greenhouse gas emissions reduction at the lowest cost? In a Europe that since 2007 has suffered a crisis of growth, something of a crisis of identity, and certainly a crisis of confidence, the answer to that question remains unclear.

Commentators are uninspired. Greenpeace’s Ruth Davis yawns and goes back to bed arguing that ‘the minimum requirements remain the same: a 55% cut in carbon pollution, a reform of the ETS that will drive dirty fuels out of the system, and a renewables target that will drive down the costs of clean tech’. None of this is evident in the 2030 package.

Alex Marshall at the ENDS report calls some minor wins and losses in the negotiating phases with Poland and the UK scoring a minor victory over France and Germany in defeating a binding renewables target.

The Carbon Brief’s article by Mat Hope  describes the white paper as an “act of faith”, and wonders what the new targets will do for Europe’s renewables industry. He reports the European Wind Energy Association calling for more certainly and strong price signals for investors. Though as Europe’s renewables industry matures, cries like this come across as spoiled rent seekers demanding subsidies.  Hope also points out that many serious commentators had already raised concerns that a 40% target for 2030 was potentially too low to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial times. He usefully points readers to Kevin Anderson’s  (Tyndall Centre) instructive open letter to the Commission before Christmas where he expresses “serious concerns that the process for determining the EU’s 2030 decarbonisation target is being conducted in a vacuum of scientific evidence, and that the proposed target fails to quantify honestly the EU’s high-level statements and international obligations on climate change”.

Anderson rarely comes across as optimistic, in this case he states simply that anything less than an 80% cut in emissions by 2030 will blow open Europe’s commitment to keeping a 2100 temperature rise to under 2°C. If that is correct then while this 2030 climate and energy package is a step in the right direction it will fall far short of making any real impact on mitigating global warming.

Maybe the European Commission is keeping another 10% of emissions cuts promises in the negotiating bag to use as bait at COP 21 in Paris next year. A we’ll show you ours if you show us yours to the US, China, Australia and other big global emitters. That tactic failed in Copenhagen, surely that’s not a trick Commissioner Connie Hedegaard is going to get wrong twice?

Cian O’Donovan is a PhD candidate within the Sussex Energy Group based in SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research) at The University of Sussex. He teaches on SEG’s Introduction to Climate Change Economics and Policy  module and can be found on Twitter at

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