FEPS Fresh Thinking

This week could be a turning point for climate and energy policy in Europe. The Commissioner for Energy Union, Maros Sefcovic announced the strategy for Energy Union alongside a Climate communication from the European Commission on the ‘road to Paris’ and a Communication reporting on the electricity interconnection target of 10 percent.

According to the International Energy Agency, energy accounts for two thirds of global emissions so when we are talking about climate change, its effects and how to deal with this, energy policy is fundamental to these debates and inextricably linked. The announcements seem to put citizens first and aim to enhance solidarity in EU energy policy and incorporates the need for social dialogue, thereby ensuring a ‘Just Transition’. However the implementation of this will be the most difficult part. National Member States still show deep divisions on how we should go about renewing our energy policies. Yet it should not only be a question of security, which the crisis in Ukraine is currently highlighting but moreover on how not to harm our environment and the only planet we are living on and about how to build a sustainable future.

The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published last year stating that humans are a cause of climate change was perhaps foreseen but nevertheless alarming. Yet the same report identified that the technology for a clean transition exists, but it needs to be harnessed.

The climate and energy decisions that Europe will make over the next 12 months, reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme for instance will shape how we use and generate energy for decades to come. They have huge implications for our fuel bills, the security of our energy supplies, our industrial opportunities, and global efforts to manage the risks posed by climate change. If our leaders take this emergency seriously, we can avoid being ‘locked-into’ fossil fuels for another several decades. Significant changes to the structure of some energy companies such as E.On illustrates their business awareness to move away from fossil fuels if they are to respect the climate agenda.

The reality is that we can do so much more in energy policy if we act together as Europeans. We have the political tools and a favourable geographical landscape to do so. What is even more needed is a mutual commitment to climate change action and thus also to enhance our energy consumption and supply in line with sustainability in social and economic terms.

Last October, the EU Council decision on the EU 2030 climate and energy package, left many feeling very disappointed. Although the European Union is recognised for being a role-model on climate action, the emergence of new clean energy policies in the US and China and the bilateral agreement signed in November now means that an international climate change agreement is more likely to be reached at the UNFCCC summit in Paris this December. The EU has to step-up and show commitment to convince those leading countries that Copenhagen cannot be repeated.

The first priority for Energy Union needs to be energy efficiency. It is the fastest, cleanest and safest way to save energy. It’s a crucial way to meet our energy needs and has multiple benefits. Also a credible European energy strategy would encourage the continued growth of the renewables industry, given the potential for its proven, affordable clean technologies to generate new industrial opportunities and help reduce gas dependency.

The deep flaws in the Emissions Trading Scheme, Europe’s flagship scheme for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, require urgent reform. The Market Stability Reserve needs to take effect as soon as possible. It is perhaps unrealistic to say we need it be reformed before the UN climate summit in Paris this year but it is an issue that requires urgent action as the low carbon price is having a knock-on effect for other climate and energy issues.

Interconnection is also a vital part of renewing European cooperation and solidarity through linked energy supplies whilst lowering dependence on Russia and other third countries. Furthermore, investment is key to this. A discussion should be started for a ‘super-fund’ for energy investment.

At the moment, with funding spread out in separate budgets, its not easy to see the clear long-term investment set-out for our overall, long-term energy and climate goals. There are economic alternatives. The crisis proved this and FEPS, with many other progressive researchers have been publishing the findings on this and showing alternative policy solutions.

We need to seriously re-think our economic models and the way we think about ‘growth’. It should be clearly linked to our climate and environment with as the ‘circular economy’ or the ‘blue economy’ suggest. Europe’s industrial strategies need to not only have regards to ‘growth’ but to assess first how this impacts the environment.

Scientific research tells us that we have to change our approach concerning the way we produce and how we influence nature. The ‘anthropocene’ concept discussed in FEPS Queries magazine issue 5 is based on evidence that proves that human-driven impacts are now significant at the level of the Earth’s deep geological time (such as the changes in carbon and nitrogen cycles, global warming, sea level change etc.)

Without radical action to avoid a 4°c rise in global temperatures, more extreme heatwaves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea-level rises are likely.

Hopefully this week’s announcements will provide the turning point we urgently need towards a sustainable transition. COP 21 in December can be too if there is the political willingness to take urgent measures.

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