Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 23 Jan 2014

There is a reason to be disappointed

The policy framework for climate and energy presented by the EU commission this week is praised by some as a reasonable compromise and a step in the right direction. OK, a 40% reduction in GHG emissions is better than was expected. OK, 27% renewable energy is a step forward, however a tiny one – some ants do better. OK, it is good to know that the EU is prepared to consider that energy efficiency should be improved and 25% is a number that is higher than the number you have had in the back of your head up till now. So why are NGOs and clean energy business associations complaining?

Connie Hedegaard, Commissioner responsible for climate change, was a bit offensive (in a good mood) towards journalists and NGOs at the press conference on January 22nd: “You don’t have to take responsibility the way we politicians have to”. The president of the commission Barroso moaned a bit and gave reference to that there should be only one target and that was the one for GHG emissions. He had been told so by some experts that had been consulted.

Let us admit that there are some in the commission that have taken quite a bit of beating in the process leading up to this compromise. They should be given credit for their work and perseverance! But they will still have to face our complaints. They have to do so since the result presented can only been seen as a success in the light of the explosions from the political shell-firing. It is not a success in the light of what is called for to solve the problems. Nature and climate do not compromise. They react and it is more violent than our howling.

Mrs Hedegaard also pointed at that it is not only Europe that needs to act and that criticism should also be targeting countries that do less and in some cases nothing. Rightfully it should – but such criticism would be so much more forceful if the European targets are really high and challenging.

The statement from Mr Barroso that there is a need for only one target is contradicted by the impact assessment made by his own staff and published together with the policy framework. There we can read:

“A single GHG target would in principle treat options for GHG reductions in a nondiscriminatory and technology neutral way. However, higher efforts geared towards energy efficiency and renewable energy beyond what is needed to achieve a GHG target would result in higher benefits relating to e.g., improvements in fuel efficiency, security of supply, reduction of the negative trade balance for fossil fuels, environmental impacts and health. A single GHG target is also expected to result in lower GDP and employment compared to a framework based on more ambitious targets for also renewables and energy efficiency, while macro-economic benefits associated with the recycling of auctioning revenues into lower labour costs would increase.”

Indeed! Why do we need such a “compromise” when this means that we forego advantages both for the economy and for the social development?

Mr Barroso’s statement is based on a wrongful assumption that all actors on the market have perfect information and are acting purely economically rational. He may have been told so and he may have had it in his education but research in behavioural economics has shown this to be wrong. And it remains wrong even if some will continue to claim this and even if some of these have fancy titles and high positions in the society.

It is therefore also peculiar to read some reactions, primarily from “old business”, to the compromise saying that it is positive since the “burdens” put on industry are not too high. Economy in general, as shown in the impact assessment, would gain from higher targets. Undoubtedly some companies will lose but the overall impact is very positive. But when the rules are laid down also the potential losers have a choice to move to the winning side.

In this context it is worth to remind of the words of the Danish professor Noergaard when he said that “it might not be cost-effective to save the world – but it could be a good idea anyway”.

We in the energy efficiency community will continue to be disappointed until the politicians realise that the costs are outweighed (by far) by the benefits.

Please observe that we do not want to trump anyone with higher or more numbers in a sort of a childish game. We want to trump the numbers since there are hard-core reasons to do so – reasons that are not only based on a different value judgement on environment and sustainability but also reasons in terms of issues that you claim to take responsibility for – economy, jobs, security, health.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson