Modest climate and energy targets won’t cut it

EU governments last week agreed three modest targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, increase the share of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency by 2030. Environmental groups said the goals would not do enough to cut Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels and put it on track to meet its own 2050 climate pledges.

Member states settled on a nationally-binding target to reduce GHG emissions by 40%. It is to be split between a 43% reduction for emissions trading system (ETS) sectors and a 30% cut for non-ETS sectors. However, as the baseline was set in 2005, the latter figure translates into a 22% reduction by 2030 compared to today’s levels.
 
The 27% target for the share of renewable energy – which stood at 14% in 2012 – will be binding at EU level but not at national level. But it is unclear how such a commitment can be enforced.
 
A non-binding energy-efficiency target of ‘at least’ 27% can be revised to 30% in 2020. The baseline was set before the economic crisis, in 2007, meaning the energy use targeted for 2030 would be only 8% lower than actual energy use in 2013.
 
The agreement, reached at a European Council meeting in the early hours of 24 October, includes the possibility for EU countries to unilaterally include transport in the ETS – a move which T&E, citing a new study, said would do nothing to reduce transport emissions.
 
Even if carbon prices in the ETS trebled from today’s levels, including road transport in the ETS would only reduce oil use and CO2 emissions from the sector by 3% over the next 15 years, the report by Cambridge Econometrics found. That reduction rate is insufficient for road transport to make a proportionate contribution to Europe’s 2050 climate goals.
 
An earlier Cambridge Econometrics study had found that setting fuel efficiency standards after 2020 instead would lead to 160,000 jobs and around €22 billion lower oil imports in 2030, and €77 billion by 2050.
 
Campaigners said the easiest way to make transport part of the ETS is by issuing allowances for the sale of fuels. Fuel suppliers would have to surrender permits, passing the cost onto drivers via a carbon tax on road transport fuels. At the current price of €6/tCO2, the cost of fuel would rise around €0.015 per litre – which is about 1% of today’s fuel price.
 
The language on including transport in the ETS refers to existing legislation that would require delegated acts for it to be activated. But before this is done, campaigners say, the Commission should analyse whether this would be legal and desirable in terms of achieving real emissions reductions.
 
T&E said some of the language on transport in the agreement could be interpreted in a positive way. It invites the Commission to further examine ‘instruments and measures’ to promote energy efficiency and electric transport, opening the door for future action.
 
T&E energy programme manager, Nusa Urbancic, said: ‘The real-world impact of these adopted targets will very much hinge on how Europe will actually go about them. It is up to the incoming Juncker Commission to make sure they are met in real life and not just on paper and give investors the right signals.
 
‘Keeping transport out of the ETS and adopting new fuel efficiency standards for all vehicles are one example. Limiting the role of bioenergy and biofuels – zero emissions on paper, often a lot in reality – in favour of solar and wind is another.’
 
The Council agreement is vague on the promotion of renewable energy in transport. Here campaigners have called for no further support for biofuels, most of which have no or very limited climate benefits but still cost the EU €6 billion annually. The Commission has already recognised that poor-performing biofuels should not receive any support post-2020.
 
Urbancic added: ‘Biofuels are an object lesson in what happens if you set wrong targets. Juncker’s Commission has the chance to fix this once and for all by focusing their attention on low carbon energy sources, especially clean electricity, that deliver for the climate. Ensuring that we spend the billions of public money on sustainable electrification of transport instead of bad biofuels should be a top priority.’