Columnists: Brook Riley, Rockwool International

Published on: 10 May 2016

Winning a higher 2030 efficiency target

The fight for a higher 2030 energy efficiency target isn’t going well. Senior Commission officials say Brexit fears and the migration crisis are hurting. They think increasing the efficiency target from 27% to 30% is feasible, because this is within the boundaries set by heads of state in 2014. But they worry that proposing more would trigger ugly debates with national governments, at a time when – as they see it – the EU is already in a crisis. So they talk limply about the art of the possible, about proposing no more than what member states are prepared to accept.

Thank goodness Schuman and Monnet were made of tougher stuff! Still, the realpolitik advisers have a point. The EU is going through a rough period. But what's the best thing the Commission strategists can do? Keep their heads down and wait for better times? I don't think so. All this would do is show a dismal lack of leadership and decisiveness – precisely the reasons why people are losing confidence in EU decision makers.

The alternative, when it comes to energy efficiency, is to recognise the opportunity in the crisis. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying efficiency is the magic wand which will fix Europe's woes. But there's no denying the Commission urgently needs a good news story, something which boosts its popularity and demonstrates its added value.

Energy efficiency can provide bucketfuls of this. According to the Commission's own analysis, the higher the target (it's modelling up to 40%), the better the results for jobs, energy security, the economy and of course greenhouse gas emissions cuts. Efficiency is also the best way to improve the lives of the 54 million (!) Europeans suffering from energy poverty. As the socialists in the European Parliament forcibly put it, nobody should have to choose between heating and eating. If Juncker and his commissioners are seeking to demonstrate their raison d'être, energy efficiency is a solution.

It's also a solution for climate action.  True, as I wrote in my last column , the Commission is still maintaining the fiction that the EU's 40% by 2030 greenhouse gas target is enough. But when you piece together Commission and UN climate panel analysis, you see that the EU's target actually assumes global warming of 2-2.4°C – a far cry from the 1.5°C and 'well below' 2°C agreed at the Paris climate summit. Sooner or later the 2030 emissions target will have to be increased. And new analysis by Ecofys shows that an energy efficiency push could cut EU emissions by fully 50% by 2030 .

Still, I have to confess to a growing frustration with the politics of energy and climate legislation. Just increasing the efficiency target from 27% to 30% is nothing when you consider the huge socio-economic benefits of a 40% target. But the Commission is only modelling 40% as a sop to the European Parliament and the efficiency lobby (including yours truly). It has absolutely no intention of proposing it. Instead, its cleverest brains seem to spend their time devising excuses for essentially doing nothing. I think our response has to be to make the benefits far more tangible, to get the Commission big shots to see what each percentage point really means, to demonstrate the political relevance – and above all to put so much pressure on them that they cannot ignore us. Like this, we’ve got a good chance.


Other columns by Brook Riley