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Heading in three directions makes a lot more sense

Ever since he took up his post two years ago, UK Energy Secretary Edward Davey has championed tirelessly the need for a binding target across Europe of a 40 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2030. It now looks pretty certain that his campaign will be successful.

The European Parliament has voted in favour. A large number of national governments are concurring. The European Commission has published a detailed policy paper, endorsing this figure.

So far, so uncontroversial.

But that target, Mr Davey argues, is sufficient by itself. He does not believe it necessary to have any related targets – whether covering renewables or energy efficiency. “Adopting an ambitious and binding greenhouse gas target will provide…a compelling reason for us all to do more on energy efficiency. But we should not prejudge the balance between increasing efficiency and deploying other low carbon measures to meet the greenhouse gas targets,” he maintains.

Others differ. Among those acknowledging the need for further statutory, as opposed to just aspirational, objectives are his opposite numbers from most of the western European governments: France, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Ireland, and many others.

 Three energy targets

At present, the European Union does have three energy-related targets for 2020. Each is based upon an emblematic 20 per cent reduction. These are to cut greenhouse gases by 20 per cent; to boost the proportion of renewable energy to 20 per cent; and to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent.

These may appear equal in timescale and objective. But they are not equal in stature. The first two both have the force of Community law behind them, effectively compelling each government to adopt appropriate policies. In contrast, the energy-saving target does not have the same status at all. It is far from compulsory, just an indicative aspiration.

Does this distinction matter in practice? You bet it does. The consequence of this “also ran” status is plain. Whereas there is confidence that the first two targets are on track to being met (indeed exceeded), you can find nobody who right now believes the 2020 energy efficiency “target” will be met.

The European Commission is due to publish in June its best forecast as to just how significant the under performance is likely to be.

But even before then, it has published some very telling evidence that suggests that those who pursue only a single 2030 target may well be guilty of deliberately frustrating many other worthwhile objectives.

It is official European policy that all new proposals must be capable of being justified via the accompanying economic impact assessment. Each new European Commission policy document is rightly required now to have a detailed Impact Assessment published alongside it.

This one demonstrates clearly that adopting complementary targets covering energy efficiency and renewables, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, would result in higher benefits relating to a whole variety of other public policies.

It is clear from this analysis that concentrating upon greenhouse gases alone means approaching the entire policy area from too narrow a standpoint. Granted the threat of runaway climate change requires effective action to contain its worst excesses. But there are a number of other policy priorities out with carbon abatement that all of Europe is seeking to address simultaneously.

The conclusion of the Impact Assessment is stark. And it is unequivocal. There would be many further benefits, above and beyond the climate changes ones, which would be obtained only via the adoption of new and very specific targets for both energy efficiency and for renewable energy.

These are adumbrated succinctly. To quote paragraph 85 of the Executive Summary of the Impact Assessment, they include: “improvements in fuel efficiency, security of supply, reduction of the negative trade balance for fossil fuels, localised environmental impacts, and health benefits.”

 Fear of ‘lower GDP’

To cap it all, those who seek to limit Europe to a single, solely ecological, target – in the objective view of the Impact Assessment – are endorsing a policy that will “result in lower GDP and employment, compared to a framework based on more ambitious targets for renewables and energy efficiency.”

As you can see, the conclusion is pellucid. European climate policy should not be developed in a silo, concentrating upon just a single climate-oriented policy outcome.

We need also to be concerned about improving public health. And increasing Europe’s competitiveness. And creating new jobs, new industries. And reducing levels of energy imports. And indeed ensuring that we can keep the lights on.

For all these reasons, when later this year all the European institutions do formally agree a policy framework for both climate and energy policy in the period from 2020 to 2030, there can be no question as to the best outcome. Three places to head are better than one.

 

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