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15th Aug 2022

Member states water down renewable energy proposal

  • The commission aimed to increase the EU 2030 binding energy efficiency target to 13 percent, instead of nine percent. (Photo: Siel Ju)
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The EU's 27 energy ministers have reached agreement on a crucial set of climate laws amid economic pressure to water down some of its more ambitious proposals.

"We have to present a coordinated approach," EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said on her arrival at the meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (27 June), adding that households will be protected against gas cut-offs.

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Energy ministers agreed to raise the 2030 target for renewable energy as a share of the EU's final energy consumption to 40 percent.

The council also set an energy efficiency target which aims to reduce energy use by nine percent compared to 2020.

To achieve this, multiple sub-targets have also been set.

The energy share in buildings across the EU has to be 49-percent renewable in 2030, although this target is not legally binding.

The share of renewables for heating and cooling has to increase by 0.8 percent annually until 2026, and by 1.1 percent from 2026 to 2030.

Finally, member countries will also have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transport by 13 percent by 2030.

Watered-down

But the threat of economic recession and high energy prices put pressure on the debate as some countries pushed to water down some of the commission proposals.

Simson hailed the agreement on nine-percent energy efficiency als an "important geopolitical signal" but the council compromise is actually less ambitious than the commission's initial idea.

Under the REPowerEU plan, the commission aimed to increase the EU 2030 binding energy efficiency target to 13 percent, instead of nine percent.

And following Spanish pressure, only the target for final energy consumption will remain legally-binding for 2030, meaning the limit only applies to businesses and households using the energy.

Energy producers are excluded and instead have an indicative target.

This is beneficial for the production of hydrogen, which requires much more energy to produce than it delivers.

It would also leave room for member countries to expand inefficient coal, which loses more energy to heat loss than gas, as an energy stopgap.

"Energy ministers seem to repeat the same old mistakes and do not prioritise energy efficiency enough," said Arianna Vitali, secretary-general of the coalition for energy savings, a multi-stakeholder platform bringing together civil society and industry groups.

Biomass

There are also concerns that the continued inclusion of biomass as a renewable energy source undermines the EU's climate targets.

In May, the parliament's environment committee approved an amendment that woody biomass should no longer be considered renewable energy.

Environmentalists at the time hailed this as a breakthrough.

But in the council agreement presented on Monday the burning of wood will still to be seen as a renewable energy source, and certain protections suggested by the commission were also weakened.

Broad EU protection for primary and biodiverse forests from burning were replaced with a "laborious targeted administrative actions" to protect these forests, according to Mary Booth, director of environmental non profit Partnership for Policy Integrity.

"Why does the council ignore the science? There is no dispute that burning wood emits more CO2 than fossil fuels and the impact lasts decades to centuries," Maarten Visschers of Dutch NGO Comité Schone Lucht said."

"The council's failure to recommend ending incentives for logging and burning forests is a failure of leadership," he said.

Forests in Estonia, an exporter of wood pellets, are now a net source of carbon emissions due to "overexploitation by the wood pellet industry," Liina Steinberg of the NGO Save Estonia's Forests.

The energy committee of the parliament will vote on the draft proposal on 13 July, setting the stage for new negotiations between the council, commission and parliament, also starting in July, which will last into the summer of 2023.

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