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22nd Jul 2018

EU backs budget support and 2030 target for renewables

  • A solar farm in the US. Growing investments overseas could strip Europe of its leading position, warned Barroso (Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory)

The European Commission has said the EU must establish a binding 2030 target for renewable energy, pledging to include stimulus measures for the industry in its multi-annual budget proposals (post 2013) to be published later this month.

Political turmoil in the oil-producing Arab world and Japan's nuclear accident have already served to buoy the renewables industry in recent months, but high development costs and Europe's emerging shale gas industry feature prominently among a number of key challenges.

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Pointing to the driest spring on record over much of Europe this year, and the associated problems for food production, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a conference in Brussels on Thursday (16 June) that the effects of climate change were increasingly visible.

"The world is heading towards a point of no return. Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we need to hit the brakes, and fast. And renewable energy offers us a significant tool in doing so," the commission chief told delegates, assembled for the presentation of a UN report.

Produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report maps out a wide range of development scenarios for different types of renewable energy, including bioenergy, solar, geothermal, hydro, ocean and wind power.

Europe risked being left behind as countries such as China pour large investments into the sector, warned Barroso, pledging to dedicate a "very important part" of the commission's multi-annual budget proposal (30 June) to developing the sector.

"I expect to mainstream support for resource efficiency and also measures to address the issue of climate change," he said, adding that Germany's recent u-turn on nuclear energy was likely to serve as an additional boost to renewable development.

Barroso also took the opportunity to condemn the US and China's opposition to the inclusion of the aviation sector in the EU's emissions trading scheme form 2012 onwards.

"Some of our partners who criticise us would do better for themselves and for the planet if they joined us instead in this effort," he said.

Caution on biofuels

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard welcomed the IPCC report as a "timely" contribution to the renewable energy debate, adding that the time was now right for the EU to discuss longer-term plans in the area.

Current rules oblige the 27-member bloc to secure 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

"But I think it is also now high time to start discussing a renewables target for 2030," said Hedegaard, noting that a recent report by the European Renewable Energy Council suggested 45 percent as an appropriate figure. The commission's own proposal is likely to be contained in a 2050 energy 'roadmap' scheduled for later this year.

"One of the big challenges now is to get the private investors to go into this area, but in order for them to do so they need to look beyond 2020," Hedegaard said.

A chapter in the IPCC report points to the large potential of bioenergy in boosting renewable energy production, although claims of 'land-grabs' in Africa are among the list of controversies more recently linked to the growing of biofuel crops.

The commission is also assessing the negative environmental impacts linked to the clearing of forests and scrubland for biofuel crops, prompting a fierce lobbying campaign by pro-biofuel groups in Brussels.

"We must take care now that we do no believe that everything that starts with 'bio' is good by definition. We risk making very, very big mistakes if we dont get this right," warned Hedegaard.

"The problem of course is that if first you have established the companies, factories, the whole industry, then its more difficult to adjust afterwards."

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