Wednesday, March 14, 2007

EU Adopts Firm Goals - 20% of Energy from Renewables and 20% Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2020

Goals must now be adopted in legal framework by member nations

[From Renewable Energy]

Energy policy and climate protection topped the agenda at the Spring European Council in Brussels last week where European Union (EU) heads of state and government officials committed to set a binding target for 20% of the EU's total energy supply to come from renewables by 2020.

Currently only 6.5% of the EU's energy is sourced from renewables.

The EU, already a leader in renewable energy technology commanding 60% of the world's wind power market, also set a binding minimum target of 10% for the share of biofuels in overall transport petrol and diesel consumption by 2020. According to Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and president of the EU Council, the goals are ambitious and credible.

"Adopting an energy action plan will give the initial spark for a third technological revolution. We'll be going down completely new roads as far as technology and innovation are concerned," said Merkel, adding the targets steps will put the EU in a position to make it clear to the international community that Europe is playing a pioneering role.

In addition, the 27 Member States that make up the EU set a firm target of cutting 20% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 as part of the post-Kyoto arrangements. Furthermore, the heads of state said the EU will be willing to raise the goal up to 30% if other countries, including the U.S., China and India, made commitments in the same direction.

"European leaders have provided a powerful response to the looming climate and energy crisis, and the call from European citizens for more renewable energy. With today's decision, followed by effective implementation in the near future, Europe now has a real opportunity to change its energy supply structure towards a much larger share of indigenous, renewable resources, reduced import dependence and less exposure to unpredictable fuel prices," said Christian Kjaer, CEO of EWEA, after the Spring Summit ended on Friday.

A suitable legal framework now needs to be rapidly adopted in order to reach the 20% target, along with clear guidelines to market participants for the future direction of renewable electricity in Europe.

The EU appears to be doing their part to reduce the threat of global warming. But they can't do it alone! It is absolutely crucial that the United States joins the EU in setting similar reduction goals (20% by 2020 or 25% by 2025) that put us on the path towards an ultimate reduction of 80% or more by 2050.

As the Economist writes:

"Like the Stern report, the agreement is clearly meant to stand as a rebuke, and a prod, to other nations, particularly America, that have not tackled the problem of anthropogenic global warming. With countries like China and India rapidly industrialising and providing ever-more carbon-intensive consumer goods like cars to their citizens, the rich world will have to trim its carbon footprint substantially if there is to be much hope of slowing the pace of warming.

It remains to be seen how effective an example Europe will set. So far, the EU’s ambitious plans for emissions cuts have underwhelmed in execution. ...

There is one thing that would make it easier for Europe to stick to its ambitious targets—federal legislation in America. California and Europe are travelling hand-in-hand along their green path; but federal-level legislation would be more effective in dampening the volume of complaints in Europe. And if America does not act, Europe will undoubtedly, at some point, give up on greenery."
The EU leaders were smart to say that they would be willing to adopt more aggressive reduction targets if other nations, such as the United States, China and India, adopt similar targets. Rather than do nothing while they wait for other nations to act - as the United States has done under the Bush Administration's leadership, citing the fact that developing nations like China and India are not included in the Kyoto Protocol as reason enough not to do anything to reduce our own emissions - the EU has taken an alternative path, setting out to reduce it's emissions a reasonable amount while publicly stating that they are willing to go further if they do not have to go it alone.

A reasonable policy, and I hope that it provides further pressure on Congress to take action on climate change (although I'm skeptical how much affect the actions of the EU have on U.S. Senators and Representatives). I'm glad that the EU has continued to lead by example in the face of inexcusable inaction from the United States. 'Leaders of the free world' we certainly are not ... at least when it comes to tackling climate change.

[Image source: University of Twente (the Netherlands)]


Omar Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
WattHead said...

Knock it off, Omar! Spam is unwelcome here. Please keep comments topical.

Heiko said...

I think the headline figures are somewhat misleading.

You know that under Bush emissions in the US have been rising more slowly than under Clinton. Bush might take a little credit for that (largely because he resisted the temptation to lower gasoline taxes in response to rising prices), but largely it's due to factors beyond policy decisions (ie rising energy prices).

Europe has a much easier time than the US for three reasons. Firstly, population growth, secondly, the dash to gas in Britain, and thirdly, the economic collapse in Eastern Europe.

Adjusting for these factors, the EU isn't actually all that ambitious.

Suppose stable per capita emissions in the US and Europe, then with 1% population growth in the US and 0% in Europe, we get a baseline of 130% in the US and 100% in Europe (I haven't checked the population figures, Europe might have a bit more than 0% between 1990 and 2020). Then subtract 15% in Europe for the economic collapse of the East and structural changes having nothing to do with climate change, and you get 85% of the baseline.

The commitment then is to a 5% reduction from the baseline, with an offer to make it 15%, if the US within 13 years goes from 130% of 1990 emissions to 70%, or cuts by nearly half from its baseline.

Or something of the sort anyway.

I realise that rhetorically Europe is doing more, but what exactly has it been doing recently that would actually lower emissions?

On petrol prices, in fact, European leaders have largely chickened out. Due to resistance by the public, they've given in, and basically lowered petrol taxes in real terms to the point where motoring costs in much of Europe are down in real terms over the last ten years!

Look at the graph of motoring costs and disposable income in the UK.

Over the last six years, the real cost of motoring has fallen by 10%, while real disposable income has risen by 35%.

There's a good reason US per capita emissions have been performing much better than European per capita emissions over the last six years.


1990 20.04
2000 20.6
2004 20.18


1990 8.11
1994 7.42
2000 7.67
2004 7.96

Notice, how US per capita emissions are stable, and European per capita emissions went down between 1990 and 1994 (largely because of restructuring) and have been rising since.

Yes, the US base is much higher and it's easier to cut, when there's a lot of waste, but it's not clear to me from these figures or actual policies, what European governments are doing that would have a major impact on trends.

Heiko said...

I suppose I am getting a little bit repetitive, but let me clarify anyway.

I am largely happy with climate change policy everywhere in the world,

I've got some quibbles about European and US policy (gas taxes could be raised in the US and at least maintained in real terms in Europe, I don't like the nuclear phaseout in Germany), but I don't think these are decisions that cause a great deal of harm.

As you know, I think it's a lot more important for human wellbeing to get education right in India, or, to cut US military spending by half.


You might want me to say something about that study on crop yields, I largely agree with your take.

WattHead said...

Heiko, thanks for the comments. As always, I appreciate the perspective you offer from Europe.

You are correct that the EU has an easier job of hitting the kind of emissions reduction targets they are setting than the US does. The slower growth of EU nations and the economic collapse of many Eastern European nations (from which they are no slowly recovering) means their baseline is a lot closer to 1990 levels than the US baseline.

Still, that doesn't excuse the US in any way. Our baseline is going to be much higher than it could have been because the US has wasted the past 10 years (since Kyoto was signed) doing more or less nothing (at least from a policy perspective) to rein in our emissions.

And the longer we wait to start getting the job done, the harder and more costly it's going to be.

Failure here is simply not an answer. We simply must achieve our proportion of global emissions reductions in order to stave of dangerous climate change. Our proportion of global reductions is larger than other nations (including the EU) for two reasons:

1) we've been the largest emitters in the planet historically for the past hundred years or so and have already used up a large portion of the global 'carbon budget'

2) we've been wasting our time dragging our feet for the last 10 years as other nations took efforts to cut their emissions, meaning our baseline is higher than it could have been making our task even harder.

Still, like you mentioned Heiko, with plenty more waste in the US, we'll have more 'low-hanging fruit' to pick, which may help matters.

Bottom line: the United States has to do it's part and cut it's emissions to 20-30% below 1990 levels by 2020-2030 and >80% below 1990 levels by 2050. No ifs, ands, or buts about it...

(Please feel free to comment on the crop yield study, Heiko. I was kind of expecting it, since it's something you've commented on in the past.)

Heiko said...

What's surprised me over the last five years is how suddenly CO2 emissions have started to track the top of the IPCC envelope of scenarios.

You may remember that five years ago, Chinese statistics claimed a decline in coal production, and all of a sudden their CO2 output more than doubles in 5 years.

On top of that, Europe has not been reducing emissions over the last few years. There are several reasons for that.

Petrol taxes haven't been raised in line with inflation.

High natural gas prices have led to a switch to coal.

There hasn't been much movement on fuel economy.

And really, apart from supporting wind power in Germany and Spain, I don't think there've been major policy measures.

Emissions don't fall just because governments sign agreements.

Now, I don't see the urgency that you see, but I think the US and Europe could do a lot more at modest cost.

To a degree the discussion about Kyoto seems a bit of distraction, at least when it degrades to pure "gesture politics".

To a surprising degree, Europe has managed to pull of looking virtuous without actually doing much different than the US.

I realise that the US has a higher per capita base and all that, and higher per capita GDP, and plenty of military expenditure that could be cut, and therefore it can afford much deeper emissions reductions without too much pain.