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21st Sep 2018

EU leaders mull climate u-turn if international talks fail

  • EU leaders are discussing climate and energy targets on Thursday (Photo: "The Council of the European Union")

The climate and energy targets for 2030 which EU leaders are to finalise at a Brussels summit on Thursday (23 October) will not be set in stone, according to a leaked document.

Depending on the international climate talks in Paris in 2015, the agreed targets can be changed accordingly.

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Draft conclusions distributed to government leaders on Thursday afternoon, seen by EUobserver, now include the option to change the targets in the so-called climate and energy framework for 2030, in case 'Paris 2015' fails.

“The European Council will keep all the elements of the framework under review and will revert to them as appropriate, notably with respect to non-ETS, interconnections and energy efficiency”, says the document.

“Non-ETS” refers to sectors of the economy which are not currently obliged to pay for their carbon emissions.

The European Union is the first to set climate targets for 2030, before the United Nations climate change conference, to be held in Paris in November and December 2015.

But several eastern and central European member states are concerned that other nations might not follow the EU's lead.

If the EU sets more ambitious targets than others without the option of changing them, they fear this could harm their competitiveness.

“This clause [on the post-Paris review] means that anything the leaders agree today can basically be changed in the future”, one EU diplomat said.

“It gives the whole summit a provisional nature”.

A second EU diplomat noted: “Part of this exercise [the EU summit] is to get ready for Paris, so there is no contradiction in this”.

Another change in the draft conclusions of Thursday, compared to those of last week, is that the target for energy efficiency is set at “at least 27 percent”.

The European Commission had originally proposed 30 percent, which was also included in the earlier draft conclusions.

However, at least seven, mostly eastern and central European nations, wanted 25 percent.

According to the draft conclusions, the council will endorse “a binding EU target of at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990” and an “EU target of at least 27% is set for the share of renewable energy consumed in the EU in 2030.”

At the same time, the new text emphasizes it will not prevent member states “from setting their own more ambitious national targets”.

Energy security

On the security front, Thursday’s draft, in a nod to coal and shale-owning states in Europe, also adds that “energy security can be increased by having recourse to indigenous resources”.

It softens new powers for the European Commission in EU countries’ bilateral talks with energy suppliers.

Last week’s conclusions said countries must “ensure” the commission is kept informed and take its “advice”.

But the new text “encourages” countries to share information and to seek commission “support”.

Amid fears that Russia will use gas cut-offs to exert influence on neighbouring EU countries, Thursday’s draft text says EU states agree to “implement critical projects of common interest in the gas sector, such as the North-South corridor, the Southern Gas Corridor”.

It also speaks of building “interconnections enhancing Finland's and the Baltic States’ energy security, to ensure diversification of energy suppliers and routes”.

But it drops an earlier clause calling for the target for electricity interconnections in the EU to go up to 15 percent of installed capacity by 2030.

“This is a big deal for Portugal and Spain because they are an electricity island and they want better connections to the rest of Europe”, an EU source noted.

Another EU contact said a third draft of the summit conclusions, circulated on Thursday evening, put “in brackets” a target of 10 percent for 2020 and 15 percent for 2030, indicating it is back on the table, however.

What are the EU climate talks about?

With climate targets only set at the EU level, the key question is how member states will be persuaded to do their share.

UN welcomes EU climate deal

The climate agreement “opens the door to greater ambition by all countries”, the head of UN body on climate change said.

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