European Union

By Jason Anderson, Head of WWF’s European Climate & Energy Policy and Regine Guenther, Director for Climate and Energy Policy for WWF-Germany

EU leaders recently agreed the outlines of a new climate and energy package covering the period 2020-2030. They seem to have overlooked that there is still plenty of scope for improvement before 2020.

EU emissions actually look likely to drop below target levels – more than 24% below 1990 levels (target is -20%). This doesn’t even include the additional off set credits purchased by government and industry. But unfortunately, by not acknowledging the likely over-achievement, Europe gives itself the option of reversing that trend. Or carrying tonnes over to dilute post-2020 goals. Neither of which is acceptable.


The obvious step would be to agree a tougher 2020 target, such as 30%, which has been shown to be both feasible and economically beneficial. EU officials seem reluctant to have this political battle, but we believe it’s clearly the best option.

Despite the reluctance, there’s a piece of legislation under discussion to improve the working of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which covers about half of Europe’s emissions. A history of easy targets, overseas off set credits and the economic downturn has created far too many permits in the system, and the price is too low to sufficiently rein in big polluters like coal power.

The improvement under discussion, the ‘market stability reserve,’ will have no environmental benefit if these ‘toxic tonnes’ simply return to the system later. We need urgent parliamentary amendments to retire or cancel the unneeded tonnes.

On renewable energy, Europe has targets that support its climate goals, and is extending them beyond 2020. But in setting a renewable energy target for 2030, the EU should not overlook meeting or exceeding the 2020 target of 20%, which is divided into binding national targets. The 2030 goal is only ‘at least 27%’, and no longer binding at national level, which means the rate of progress on renewables would slow down post-2020.

Unfortunately the level of commitment and support for renewables growth seems to be on the wane in many European countries. Some member states might tend to hope they’ll get away with underperforming on their 2020 commitments. This can’t be allowed to happen – it would be illegal, for one thing.

When it comes to energy efficiency, more effort and commitment is needed to make sure buildings are better insulated and products more efficient, if we’re to meet the 20% target for 2020. The recent upsurge in interest in energy security has added new urgency to the idea of saving energy.

In general member states need to be more open about communicating their positive actions, and make sure they lead to pre-2020 improvements. (Germany, for example, has an ambitious 40% greenhouse gas reduction goal.) Countries should also be prepared to cancel excess Kyoto and EU ETS allowances unilaterally.

Europe’s role isn’t limited to domestic efforts, but also helping finance reductions elsewhere. Some EU countries have made important contributions to the Green Climate Fund, but Europe’s total effort is still far off -track from its fair share of the foreseen $100bn by 2020.

Europe needs to be careful not to simultaneously finance high-carbon energy, at home or abroad. Fossil fuel energy subsidies still exist in Europe, and need to be stopped, just as international finance needs to be redirected away from coal and towards clean energy.

For six years European politicians have been bending to the will of a handful of fossil-fuel-dependent EU countries and their industry allies, whose ideological opposition to climate action has held back economic transition.

Europe’s goals for 2030 demonstrate this inadequacy – the ‘at least 40%’ cut in greenhouse gases should be 55%; the 27% renewable energy target should be 45%; and the efficiency goal of 27% should be 40%.

In this important year for climate and clean energy – and with a new European parliament and Commission in place – it’s time for European leaders to show they can take the steps needed to close the gigatonne gap for 2020, set their sights higher for 2030, and guide Europe to nearly total decarbonization by 2050.