EU renewables package a faltering step forward

Feature story - 23 January, 2008
The EU is pushing ahead with measures to boost adoption of renewable energy and cut carbon emissions. Although they still don't go far enough, they are a step in the right direction.

Greenpeace installs solar panels on a school.

Of course, we have been telling politicians all along that only renewable technologies such as wind and solar power, alongside improving energy efficiency, are the only real solution to climate change. The penny dropped last year, when the EU announced that by 2020, a fifth of all energy would come from renewable sources.

Governments were quick to show their green credentials by signing up but now we want to see action to make sure the target is achieved.

Large energy companies lobbied hard to introduce a virtual trading system for renewable energy that would undermine the broad development of renewable energy technologies. Luckily these efforts to derail effective renewables support failed.

Now the European Commission has published targets setting out the amount of renewable energy each country must generate to ensure that the EU goal is met. The push on renewables is just one part of a wider package to tackle climate change. They have also released a breakdown of how much each country needs to cut their carbon emissions by to make good the EU's promise to achieve a 20 percent cut by 2020.

30 per cent carbon emissions reductions are needed

So far, so good. But whilst these measures show that the EU is thinking along the right lines, the targets themselves simply aren't ambitious enough.

The EU targets fall short of what is needed to ensure that global warming is kept below 2 degrees Celsius, what scientists agree would be the tipping point for Earth's climate.

And it isn't just environmental organisations that are saying this. Scientists agree that a 20 percent cut in emissions just isn't enough, and the European Commission themselves have openly admitted that it falls short of what is needed.

If the EU really wants to show leadership on climate change they need to set realistic targets to cut emissions - and that means a 30 percent reduction by 2020.

EU carbon credits system still flawed

The climate proposals also set out new rules for emissions trading. The EU set up the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2005 to tackle emissions from industry. It means that companies have to either reduce their emissions or buy carbon credits from other companies.

The EU has suggested ways to fix some major flaws in the existing scheme, but again they've caved into industry pressure and pulled back from making the scheme as effective as it needs to be.

Companies will still be given at least 40 percent of the carbon permits that are available for free in 2013. This is no good. If the scheme is to have any real teeth we need to make sure that the polluter pays and that the real cost of carbon is accurately reflected.

The EU's climate package is a good start but if Europe really is to show bold leadership on climate change they need to go much further.

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