The EU's attitude toward targets has changed dramatically over the past five years.
Back in the heady days of 2008, before the European Union was plunged into a period of crisis around both its currency and its legitimacy, setting hard targets for solving the climate change problem was all the rage. Flash forward to 2014 and the world is a very different place.
The European Commission is planning to come forward later this month with a proposal to set new climate targets for 2030. These would follow the '20-20-20' package set in 2008: 20% emissions reduction based on 1990 levels, 20% share of renewable energy and 20% increase in energy efficiency. The first two targets were binding, while the third was indicative.
For 2030, the Commission is going to try a different tact. The emissions target strategy will remain roughly the same – a binding target increased to 40% for 2030 (though this is still subject to some internal wrangling in the Commission). But for the renewable energy target, there is likely to be a shift in strategy. The draft proposal being submitted for review within the Commission tomorrow will make the 2030 target non-binding, without individual legally-enforceable targets for member states.
The new strategy will please most member states, who want more flexibility in setting their own energy path forward. Many countries such as the
are now more keen on expanding nuclear energy than setting subsidies for
renewables. It is thought that an overall EU goal of 30% can be met chiefly by
the countries which are very enthusiastic about renewable energy – Germany, Denmark
for example. This would leave others to pursue their own course. Poland could
plow full steam ahead with its shale gas exploration, though it would still
have to find a way to lower its emissions to meet the binding GHG target.
The reality is that the type of top-down solutions that were popular in 2008 are just not going to fly in today's political climate. Privately Commission officials have been stressing that just because the EU sets a binding target doesn't mean that it's going to achieve it.
Commissioners have also been expressing these sentiments publicly. Back in 2012 Siim Kallas, the European Commissioner for transport, said in a discussion about targets for CO2 emissions that the last Commission had big enthusiasm for targets, but not realism about how to reach them. He then listed the dispute with the
over inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) as an
example. He should know, as he was himself part of the previous Commission
college - though in a largely non-policy capacity as commissioner of
In reality, it takes effective policy measures to get the EU to where it needs to be. And the Commission will, in the coming decade, put forward binding measures on renewable energy that will better integrate the European grid and encourage private investment in wind and solar.
But without binding targets, public investment and subsidies are likely to fall by the wayside. For a renewable industry that is approaching maturity, perhaps this is not a bad thing. But green campaigners say that without enforceable targets the goal will never be reached. They point to the efficiency target. The EU is set to miss its 2020 efficiency target by a wide margin after member states watered down the energy efficiency directive in 2012. Because that target was not made binding, there was less pressure to make that directive work.
There are still many voices demanding binding targets. This morning the European Parliament's environment and energy committees voted on a draft report calling for three binding climate targets. But it seems unlikely this will be enough to convince the Commission to change its mind.
The climate proposal is still subject to two weeks of internal Commission wrangling before it sees the light of day. Many climate campaigners are hoping that the Commission drops the non-binding renewables target from the proposal in the mean time, so that the possibility of a binding target will still be open. Better to hold out for a binding target than to lock in a non-binding target now, they reason.
The reality, however, is that a binding target just isn't very feasible in today's political climate. And it is unlikely to become any more feasible if the Commission waits a few years to put forward its proposal for 2030.