About a year ago, in a rather grumpy frame of mind, I had a conversation with an official in the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, about why any of us should ‘get out of bed’ for the new EU 2030 package?
I set out the minimum commitments needed to make a new EU policy more than a PR exercise for the European Commission.
The first was simple; would the EU cut greenhouse gas pollution quickly and deeply enough to reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change - including the devastating effects of more extreme weather on its own citizens? Our analysis suggested that this meant a minimum of 55% cuts in domestic emissions. That figure would not just mean the EU was doing its fair share to tackle the problem, but also that is was setting the bar for the international climate negotiations due to conclude in Paris in 2015.
The second was, would EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme recover sufficiently enough to act as a dis-incentive to burning the world’s dirtiest fuel – coal – and drive greater efficiencies in our power and industrial sectors? Energy experts suggested that this might need a carbon price up to ten times higher than current level of approximately 5 euros. This in turn would need a tough greenhouse gas target, and serious structural reforms to the trading system, which is awash with excess pollution permits.
My third ask was for a policy that would drive investment in new clean technologies, helping to reduce their costs in the same way that today’s policies have cut the costs of onshore wind and solar power. Reducing the costs of renewable technologies should be an obsession with anyone interested in delivering climate and energy security in the future. Low cost renewables will make the bill for cleaning up our energy system smaller, and offer long-term benefits for consumers and businesses alike. The minimum requirement here was a binding target for renewable energy and policies to drive cleaner fuels and low carbon vehicles.
Today, following the publication of the European Commission’s White Paper on 2030 climate and energy policies, I am still wondering if I should have got out of bed. A 40% greenhouse gas target is simply not enough to set the pace towards a 2 degree global climate deal. A weak target and ETS reforms that will only kick in after 2020 are unlikely to see off king coal from our energy mix. And a renewables target which looks like a parody of the US’s favoured ‘pledge and review’ approach to climate planning is scarcely an invitation to clean tech investors.
However, I'm a bed half-made, glass half-full sort of person, and so I remain hopeful that Europe’s political leaders can do what the Commission has so singularly failed to do, and deliver us a 2030 policy that will meet the needs of EU citizens, not merely the career goals of professional bureacrats or the lobbying demands of the energy giants.
The minimum requirements for such a policy remain the same: a 55% cut in carbon pollution, a reform of the ETS that will drive dirty fuels out of the system, and a renewables target that will drive down the costs of clean tech.
Try again please, Cameron, Hollande and Merkel. In March, I’d like to wake up and smell some ambition.