Is EU policy in line with the Paris Agreement?

A new ranking published by Climate Action Network Europe (CAN Europe) shows that most EU countries are set to miss their carbon reduction pledges made as part of the Paris Agreement.

CAN Europe’s report “Off Target”, published on June 2018 states that all EU countries are failing to increase their climate action in line with the Paris Agreement goal: to limit the global rise in temperatures to well below 2°C and close to 1.5°C.

According to the report, Sweden is the top performer, and on track to meet its domestic climate and energy targets for 2020 and has a high share of renewable energy in its energy mix. It has set domestic emission reduction targets beyond the EU requirements and is calling for more ambitious action at the EU level, including targets to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 at the latest. However, Sweden still has high energy consumption per capita and meeting its 2030 domestic climate target is currently at risk, mainly due to high emissions in the transport sector.

But CAN Europe’s report states that no single EU country is performing sufficiently well in both ambition and progress towards reducing carbon emissions, meaning the top position is left unoccupied.

Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg ranked highly because of their ambitious climate policies, while taking the lead in the debate on the EU’s future targets.
However, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the UK scored less well. They are no longer considered at the forefront of climate action and “aim rather low despite their relative wealth,” according to the CAN Europe report.

The UK is ranked 14th by the report. Historically, the UK has committed to a number of ambitious climate targets which go beyond the collective commitments set at EU level. In particular, the UK has pledged to phase out coal by 2025 and fossil fuel cars and vans by 2040. It has also put in place a climate law (Climate Change Act 2008) to achieve at least 80% emission reduction by 2050 and increased financial support for developing countries.

However, the uncertainties surrounding the of the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit are detrimental to the UK’s credibility as a climate leader.

Most Central and Eastern European countries are considered unambitious when it comes to climate policies due to their weaker economies and lower targets.

[image] Source: “Off Target” Ranking of EU countries’ ambition and progress in fighting climate change by Climate Action Network Europe, accessed 19 June 2018.

Source: “Off Target” Ranking of EU countries’ ambition and progress in fighting climate change by Climate Action Network Europe, accessed 19 June 2018.

Is EU policy aligned with the Paris Agreement?

The negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European on the review of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) are still a long way apart on targets.

Policymakers are currently discussing a package of laws that will define the EU’s climate and energy policy for 2030 – including targets on greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energy. In addition, a public consultation on a 2050 low-carbon roadmap is due to be launched in July, with a view to adopting a European strategy before the European elections next year.

The 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive established a set of binding measures to help the EU reach its 20% energy efficiency target by 2020. Under this Directive, EU countries are required to use energy more efficiently at all stages of the energy chain, from production to final consumption. It includes Article 8, which required EU member states to put in place legislation to ensure that non-SME enterprises are subject to certified energy audits by 5 December 2015 and at least every four years thereafter after (ESOS in the UK). The Phase 2 compliance date is 5 December 2019.

On 30 November 2016, the EU Commission proposed an update to the Energy Efficiency Directive, including a new 30% energy efficiency target for 2030, and measures to update the Directive to make sure the new target is met. But new targets have still not been agreed. The European Parliament (made up of MEPs) argues that targets for both renewables and energy efficiency should be 35%.

The EU Council of Ministers is calling for lower targets

However, the Council of Ministers (made up of representatives of the EU national governments) favours less ambitious targets, backing only 27% for renewables and 30% for energy efficiency, without an indication on whether the targets should be binding or not. However, Sweden and Portugal now support a 35% target for renewables, while Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg all want to increase the 27% provisionally approved by the EU Council of Ministers.

At a Council meeting of energy ministers on 11 June, Luxembourg and Spain both supported the European Parliament’s call for higher targets on renewables and energy efficiency, backing a 35% objective for both. The Netherlands, France, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Portugal also call for higher targets on renewables and energy efficiency than those currently on the table.

However, Central European countries, such as Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have opted for lower targets, highlighting the cost of the energy transition.

Germany appears to side with the Central European countries. On 11 June, it warned against “unachievable targets” on renewable energies for 2030, which some EU countries want to raise to 32 or 35% – well above the 27% objective provisionally agreed by the Council of Ministers.

Aligning EU policy with the Paris Agreement

It is clear that negotiations on European targets are still a long way from agreement. But most national governments represented on the EU Council are starting to move towards a more committed effort to energy efficiency and renewable energy targets. Financial costs, the main argument against higher targets, are falling and public opinion across the EU backs the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

After months of deadlock, Member States have now given the Bulgarian Presidency a mandate to negotiate a 2030 energy efficiency target of more than 30%. This means the EU Council is edging towards the Parliament – which wants a 35% target – and the Commission, which is also backing more ambitious targets. But Member States have committed to the Paris Agreement and must move closer to the Parliament’s proposed target of 35% for energy efficiency to implement its goals.

The European Parliament’s position is supported by a coalition of businesses, investors (representing over €21 trillion in assets), local authorities and civil society groups, which have joined forces to urge EU leaders to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy in order to keep global warming below 2°C. This is the main message of a letter to EU leaders sent on 12 June by the “Coalition for Higher Ambition”.

This supports the view that that full implementation of the Paris Agreement requires deeper emission cuts than currently planned. This means adopting the Parliament’s position, increasing the target for reducing carbon emissions by 2030 and cutting emissions to net zero by 2050.

Read the full CAN Europe’s report “Off Target”, published on June 2018