Friday morning, EU leaders finally reached an agreement for its 2030 energy target – member states have all agreed to reduce their green house gas emissions by 40%. Following the announcement, industry representatives voiced concerns that the decisions will affect the EU’s economy and competitiveness, while environmental groups on the other hand criticized the terms as falling too short. Personally, while I’m not impressed with the goal considering EU standards against climate change, I still feel like this is step forward in the right direction, one that I hope will spur global action in 2015, in Paris, when a similar consensus might be reached – this time worldwide!
40% less carbon by 2030 in the EU
“This decision and this message will be listened to in Washington and in Beijing and many other capitals,” Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters on Friday.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the prime drivers to reach this objective, thus the EU now needs to increase the share of renewable energy to 27 percent and to increase its energy efficiency by 27 percent – both targets falling below from the initial 30% proposal. Like reported yesterday in ZME Science’s featured article on the subject, a lot of interests had to be managed, hence the compromise. The fiercest opponent was Poland, which relies on coal to supply more than 90% of its energy needs. Pressured by her local coal industry, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz threatened yesterday to veto the motion if a consensus couldn’t be reached.
“Given the potential for energy savings to reduce costs and boost energy security, the non-binding 27 percent energy efficiency target is disappointing and sends a weak signal,” Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, said.
You might think that 40% less CO2 is a highly ambitious target, but let’s consider the details a bit. The target refers to cutting down CO2 from 1990s levels, but the EU is already nearing 20% cuts relative to this benchmark. In addition, the EU has another agreement under which renewable energies will already account for an energy share of 25 percent by 2020. So, in other words, today’s agreement from Brussels could better be described under these terms: cut 20% more CO2 and increase renewable share by 2% in ten years. That doesn’t seem like much anymore.
The EU is responsible for only 10% of the total greenhouse gases released in the world, and many governments in the EU are complaining that they shouldn’t compromise their economies (debatable; the renewable sector creates jobs too and energy efficiency saves money and lessens dependency on Russian natural gas, hence a matter of national security considering the Ukrainian crisis) until other countries in the world join. China, the world’s biggest polluter, said it will cap its emissions, but it’s not clear when this will happen. The United States, the world’s second largest polluter, has increased its emissions by 4.3% since 1990, but officials said it would cut U.S. power sector emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.
Climate scientists believe that a global 40% reduction in CO2 emissions is the bear minimum that will keep global warming from increasing surface temperatures by more than 2 degrees Celsius – a threshold that, if breached, will have dramatic consequences to life on Earth. Environmental groups believe the Brussels meeting was sabotaged by industrial lobbyists, since the terms are too lenient and citing 50% and 45% as more action worthy. Nevertheless, ZME Science salutes the EU’s latest stand against climate change and we only hope other countries follow suit!
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.