Commission promotes its energy union

26th February 2015

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Energy efficiency and decarbonising the energy sector are at the heart of new proposals from the European commission.

The commission’s framework strategy for the energy union, published yesterday, insists that the EU has to "move away from an economy driven by fossil fuels” and become a leader in renewables. “The energy union will ensure that renewable energy is mainstreamed and fully integrated into a fully sustainable, secure and cost-efficient energy system. This will allow the EU to remain a world leader in competitive renewable energy technology and innovation,” says the commission.

Measures being proposed to achieve the decarbonisation of the Europe’s energy sector include new rules to integrate renewable production efficiently into the market and the harmonisation of national renewable energy policies and support schemes. The commission also wants more focused renewable energy research and demonstration, and to speed up the decarbonisation of the transport sector, including by promoting the use of electric vehicles and investing in advanced biofuel production.

Energy efficiency first is described by the commission as one the main pillars of the new strategy. This, says the document, will require a fundamental rethinking of energy efficiency and treating it as an energy source in its own right so that it can compete on equal terms with generation capacity.

The commission says existing rates of building refurbishment in the EU are insufficient, with efficiency investments in buildings for low-income tenants or owners being particularly slow. It plans to carry out a review of the Directives on energy efficiency and energy performance of buildings with the aim of creating a better legislative framework to deliver energy efficiency in buildings.

Maroš Šefčovič, the commission vice president responsible for the energy union, described the strategy as the most ambitious European energy project since the creation of the Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the EU, in the early 1950s. “We [have] set in motion a fundamental transition towards a low-carbon and climate-friendly economy, towards an energy union that puts citizens first, by offering them more affordable, secure, and sustainable energy," Šefčovič said.

UK energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey welcomed the proposals, saying it would provide a more cost effective route to a low-carbon economy. But he warned that the EU must give more support to nuclear and emerging low-carbon energy technologies. “But to meet all our goals, the EU must do more to support all low-carbon technologies, including nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, alongside renewables and energy efficiency.”

Meanwhile, the WWF said draft energy union contained blind spots on how to shift Europe to a low-carbon economy. “The commission strikes many of the right notes, such as being explicit about moving away from fossil fuels, reorganising energy markets around renewables, and giving efficiency a central role. But it also focuses in on the need to bolster fossil fuel supply, and piles up idea upon idea: diversifying uranium supplies, supporting carbon capture and storage, and nuclear fusion all come in for a positive mention. The word ‘gas’ appears dozens of times, while ‘coal’ does not turn up once,” it said.

Accompanying the publication of the draft energy union was a communication from the commission setting out its proposed position for the EU ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris in December. It reiterates the importance of reaching a legally binding agreement by the end of the year to keep global warming below 2°C and says its position in Paris will be in line with the agreement made by EU leaders in October 2014 to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030.

The commission describes the so-called “Paris protocol” communication as a key element in the implementation of its priority to build a resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy.

Campaigners, however, were largely disappointed that the communication did not include a higher emissions reduction target. Susann Scherbarth, climate justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Europe has huge potential to go far beyond the 40% emissions cut it has announced for 2030 without relying on international offsetting or carbon trading in any way. It is essential that it sets out a stronger emission reduction pathway up to 2020 and beyond.”

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