martes, febrero 06, 2007

UE: European Union Policy consultation; Sustainable energy

by Eluned Morgan

For renewables to become truly competitive with traditional energy sources the sector requires a quantum leap in levels of investment and research.

Last January, a bitter shiver ran through many homes in western Europe when the Russian firm Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine. That momentary shiver soon developed into a concerned shiver among politicians across Europe as the recognition dawned that if we were to continue on our current trajectory, over 80 per cent of the EU’s future gas supply was likely to come from this direction. On top of this, 2006 witnessed an increasing awareness of the fact that climate change is affecting our planet more quickly and in more dramatic ways than we hitherto imagined, and that if we are to combat this threat we must surely start by radically changing the way we use and produce energy.

On both counts, renewable energy provides us with solutions. Indeed, with their capability for reducing CO2 emissions and ensuring security of supply, renewables were always to be a vital component of any future energy policy. Yet it is clear that the EU will have to take a quantum leap in terms of its use of renewable energy and undertake a major drive to make it competitive with “traditional” energy sources. Earlier this month the European commission set the ball rolling announcing proposals for a 20 per cent binding target for renewable energy consumption by 2020. A laudable target, despite falling short of the 25 per that the European parliament had called for.

Yet, as ever, the devil is in the detail. As it stands, there is concern that the commission’s proposals may endanger the existing and successful directive on electricity from renewables and may fail to give the heating and cooling sector a much needed European-wide legal framework. We know that the 2001 directive on electricity from renewables has been a successful instrument for their development. Thanks to it, many member states have a much higher share of renewables than could have been imagined five or ten years ago. But to guarantee the continuation of this success there is a case for a new sectoral target for 2020, otherwise we risk watering-down our best tool Eluned Morgan is parliament’s rapporteur on the EU strategy for sustainable, competitive and for promoting renewable energy. Certainly, the consequences of weak or absent sectoral targets can be seen clearly in the biofuel and heating and cooling sector where lack of legislative direction has led to years of stagnation. For this reason there is a patent need to explore further just how the commission justifies its proposal for an overall directive for renewables.

For renewables to become truly competitive with traditional energy sources, the sector requires investment and research. At the moment, the European environment agency estimates that the EU and the governments of its 15 older member states together provide €5.3bn a year in subsidies to renewables. This amounts to just over one-sixth of the total volume of subsidies given annually to the energy sector. Fossil fuel production and consumption receive much greater subsidies than renewables – an estimated €21.7bn. A shift in investment policy is vital – to ensure investment market security and meet the proposed targets. Perhaps most pressing of all is the need to translate EU proposals into action at the national level.

We now have a 20 per cent EU target but targets from individual member states look distant; at the recent energy council meeting only four member states supported the proposed mandatory targets. Time is of the essence. It is crucial that the commission and the parliament put pressure on member states to outline how exactly they intend to reach the 30 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 that is required in order to stop the ice caps from melting. Those resistant to an ambitious approach to renewables would do well to remember that a Europe of clean, efficient and innovative energy supplies will be the economic winner of tomorrow. The Stern report laid this out in no uncertain terms. By reducing our dependence on gas and oil, creating an innovative new European industry with tremendous growth and employment potential and export opportunities, renewables will be vital to ensuring a secure and
prosperous future for Europe.

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