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14th Apr 2024

Leaked EU document says energy efficiency just a 'slogan'

  • A worker about to install double glazing - an energy efficiency measure which can help reduce energy bills as well as reduce carbon footprints (Photo: European Parliament)

The majority of national governments of the European Union think that the commitment to put energy efficiency first is no more than a slogan, according to a leaked document.

The document, originating from the Council of the EU – where member states meet – was seen by this website. It suggested that member states want to keep firm control over which energy infrastructure projects to prioritise.

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  • EU member states want to keep the power to prioritise gas infrastructure projects over energy savings projects (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

The document said that countries should not be obliged to give energy efficiency projects priority over gas infrastructure projects – which are more harmful to the climate.

The majority of member states understand 'energy efficiency first' "more as a slogan", the document said, adding that they prefer to honour the 'cost-efficiency first' principle.

The paper raises questions about how promises and speeches on achieving an Energy Union will be put in practice.

According to the European Commission, reducing energy consumption by using it more efficiently – for example by insulating old buildings – is a core priority.

The commission has called this the 'energy efficiency first' principle and calls on member states to view energy efficiency as an energy source in and of itself.

The commission's 2016 strategy paper Clean Energy for All Europeans called the principle one of the strategy's three main goals.

"Energy efficiency is the most universally available source of energy," the paper said.

"Putting energy efficiency first reflects the fact that the cheapest and cleanest source of energy is the energy that does not need to be produced or used," it added.

The paper was accompanied by a proposed regulation, which is currently being negotiated by the European Parliament and the council.

The parliament wants to clearly define the principle, and lay down in law that it means "the prioritisation, in all energy planning, policy and investment decisions, of measures to make energy demand and energy supply more efficient".

MEPs want energy efficiency to actually be treated as a priority, for example over other energy infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure, but not a priority

But the council is not keen on that, according to the leaked document.

The paper is a review of the first high-level negotiations – or trilogue – between parliament, council, and commission.

"The idea of the EP is to put the energy efficiency projects in the same level-playing field as other energy infrastructure project in terms of financing opportunities and mechanisms," the paper said.

It asked member states if they could accept, by way of compromise, energy efficiency being treated "as an infrastructure", but not "as an infrastructure priority".

The paper said that the latter would be against the subsidiarity principle, which states that decisions should be taken at the level of government closest to citizens.

Clemence Hutin, campaigner for the environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth Europe, blamed Bulgaria's environment minister, who in the past has questioned the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

Bulgaria is currently chairing the council as rotating EU presidency.

"This document exposes how the Bulgarian EU presidency, and it's climate-denying environment minister, would have Europe continue to waste energy in order to boost profits for the gas industry," said Hutin.

"While millions of Europeans are locked in energy poverty, including four in ten Bulgarians, it's baffling to see decision-makers turn their backs on the most effective way to cut fossil fuels dependency and people's energy bills, whilst jeopardising Europe's chance of averting catastrophic climate change," she added.

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