• Binding national targets for renewable energy have been dropped (Photo: European Commission)

EU proposes 'affordable' climate targets

22.01.14 @ 15:38

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Wednesday (22 January) proposed new greenhouse gas targets which it said would see the EU remain the global leader on climate change action, without damaging the bloc's fragile economy.

Under the proposals, the EU would curb its CO2 emissions by 40 percent - compared to 1990 levels - by 2030 and obtain "at least" 27 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the same year.

Both figures were disputed until the last minute.

The greatest tussle was over renewable energy sources. As part of the overall deal, the commission abandoned the current system of national targets - which it said led to fragmentation of the internal market - in favour of an overall binding EU goal.

Member states will be free to decide how they contribute to the 2030 renewable energy target, with a new "governance system" to be established to make sure countries do their bit.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the proposals are both "ambitious and affordable" and go "beyond the debate" of either being green or supporting the industry.

No energy efficiency target was set.

Guenther Oettinger, energy commissioner, said the commission was waiting for a July review of energy efficiency policy.

Concrete targets will then be laid down in autumn, he noted. He indicated that energy efficiency targets will play a substantial role in the EU's green plans as energy prices in the EU are considerably higher than in the US, however.

"On average we're paying twice as much as the Americans for electricity," he said.

Climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaarde pre-empted criticism by environment groups that the 40 percent target is too weak by saying it will still need "real sincere effort" by member states.

"The art of politics is proposing something you can get through," she said, noting that NGOs can propose much stiffer targets but "it's not their responsibility" to implement them.

The EU's current green programme runs until 2020, and saw it commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and having 20 percent renewable energy.

The latter was reached by national targets which will, despite Wednesday's more flexible approach for the future, continue to remain in place until 2020.

The proposals are due to be discussed by EU leaders at their March summit, with Barroso saying that he believes it is possible to get agreement from all 28 member states.

Both he and Hedegaard urged a quick positive signal from governments so that the EU takes the lead ahead of global climate change discussions next year, culminating in Paris at the end of 2015.

Barroso said he would be "so happy" if other countries made a "comparable" proposal.

Green groups however accused the EU of putting too much focus on industry's wishes.

"Barroso and his commissioners seem to have fallen for the old-think industry spin that there must be a trade-off between climate action and economic recovery," said Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth.

The European Environment Bureau said both the targets contained in the proposal represent "barely more than a business-as-usual scenario."