Columnists: Brook Riley, Rockwool International

Published on: 13 Jan 2014

Who's pulling the strings on EU climate and energy policy?

As sure as night follows day, lobby organization BusinessEurope can be relied on to criticize climate action.

They have just sent this letter to President Barroso on the 2030 climate and energy package (due for release on January 22). It's a rehash of what BusinessEurope has been saying for the past months. Barroso is encouraged to set a 'realistic' (i.e. weak) greenhouse gas target which won't harm industrial competitiveness, to wait until other countries around the world have taken climate action, and to remember the supposedly  'high costs impact of energy and climate policies'.

In other words, do nothing. Stick with business as usual.

It's all very self-serving and logically incoherent - there won't be any climate action if everyone waits for someone else to act first. But the sad truth is BusinessEurope has been far too successful at winning over Barroso to their side.

Their arguments go something like this:  they fully agree climate change is a huge threat which must be stopped. The EU and the rest of the world must act. But at the same time Barroso must be realistic.  There is the more immediate problem of dealing with the economic crisis. The EU should do that first, and only then turn to the climate. Barroso certainly shouldn't do anything which would stand in the way of economic recovery. And BusinessEurope claims this is what ambitious climate and energy policies risk doing...

It's clever propaganda because it plants the theory that climate action and the economy are somehow contradictory. Commission sources say the idea of a trade-off is now deeply rooted in Barroso's mind. This helps explain why he is currently supporting a very weak target of 40% GHG cuts, with no binding targets for energy savings and renewables.

You've got to ask yourself who's pulling the strings on the EU's climate and energy policy - BusinessEurope or Barroso and the Commission?

You've also got to wonder how exactly climate action can be bad for the economy. An ambitious emissions reduction target means cutting energy use and increasing the share of renewables. This will cut energy imports, for which the EU currently spends €500 billion a year, according to the IEA. By contrast, tough action on energy efficiency - which the IEA calls our 'first fuel' - would cut net energy costs by €250 billion per year by 2030, according to research group Ecofys.

Then there is the huge financial expense of dealing with rampant climate change. Barroso has said that the EU has 'set in stone a commitment to cap the temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius'. But a 40% GHG target means a 50-70% chance of exceeding 2 degrees, with 'devastating consequences' according to the World Bank. These are terrifying odds. We cannot afford not to act.

Europe needs three ambitious 2030 binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions, energy savings and renewables. Barroso must start seeing climate action as an opportunity for economy recovery - that is if he doesn't want to be remembered as a puppet in the hands of an old-think business lobby.

Brook Riley, Friends of the Earth Europe

Other columns by Brook Riley