The EU: No Decision on New Low-Carbon Targets

What to conclude from the non-conclusions on new targets – and Poland’s opposition?

The Council of the European Union (EU) held an Environment Council on 9 March 2012, the first one under the Danish presidency. The Environment Council discussed energy, climate change and low-carbon economy, all issues that should be at the basis of a coherent energy policy for 2050. The EU is currently discussing and drafting the concrete measures that will implement the low carbon economy Roadmap 2050 and Energy Roadmap 2050. The Council was expected to adopt conclusions, i.e. a political endorsement, on the roadmap for moving to a low-carbon economy, but the resulting text reflects the opposition from one Member State in particular and the scepticism towards new “targets”.

The political debate concentrated around the opposition from Poland to endorse the Commission’s proposal to adopt further commitments as to the implementation of the low-carbon Roadmap. Poland’s opposition to the adoption of any new measures was however expected, following declarations by Polish representatives. Poland’s opposition, materialised by its veto to the Commission’s conclusions, finds its justifications in the particular energy mix of the country, mainly relying on coal (see country energy profile, Poland (pdf)). The broad support in favour of carbon capture and storage and shale gas in the country must be understood in that context. Poland’s representatives were in favour of a sole reduction target for 2050, while they defended that implementation measures should be left to the Member States in accordance with the subsidiarity principle. Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard characterised Poland’s stance as “unfortunate”, and provided the following answer:

“Let’s imagine that we said the same about the economic crisis, that the EU defined the economic target for 2050 but how to reach it and whether anything happened in the next 38 years would be an exclusive matter for individual member states. Everyone can see that this wouldn’t work. This is also true when it comes to our climate policies. […] The Commission’s job is to take care of the common European interest. […] This is what we will do. There are already a number of proposals from the Commission paving the way, e.g. the energy efficiency directive that the European Council wants to be adopted already in June and the Commission’s budget proposal with an ambitious climate mainstreaming.”

The Commission recalls in the adopted conclusions from the Environment Council that the purpose was to adopt “milestones” and not “targets”. In more details, the Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050, which was presented in March 2011 (see COM(2011) 112 final, pdf), has as its objective to establish a “sustainable and cost-effective trajectory to 2050”, based on the realisation of milestones for domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions of: 40% by 2030; 60% by 2040; and 80% by 2050 compared to 1990. As reported by EuropeanVoice, Poland considers that these milestones “would not allow each country to move at its own pace and decide its own energy mix.”

This is the second time Poland blocks the adoption of implementation measures for the Commission’s roadmap, after the refusal of a 25% target reduction of GHG emissions by 2020 in June 2011. Earlier in February 2011, the European Council reaffirmed the EU objective of reducing GHG emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990. The matter is now referred to the European Council, the June Environment Council or the next EU Presidencies (either Cyprus or Ireland).

The European Parliament is planned to adopt a resolution on the same roadmap on 15 March in plenary session (draft report by MEP Davies), a vote which should include reference to the set-aside of emissions allowances under the EU emissions trading scheme as a tool for “recalibrating” the carbon market and influence the carbon price before the commencement of the third trading phase (2013-2020).

Since the adoption of the third energy liberalisation package and climate change and energy package, the EU energy policy has entered an “implementation phase”. Many targets, binding or indicative, have been adopted and efforts must necessarily concentrate on implementation. This will still be the case in the coming years. In parallel, it is necessary to discuss long-term objectives, which is the purpose of the 2050 Roadmaps. Under this debate, we are clearly under a “negotiating phase” for post-2020 measures, illustrated by Friday’s Environmental Council (lack of) conclusions. There is also a crucial need for coherence between the different objectives to be reached concomitantly, i.e. GHG emissions reductions, low-carbon economy, renewables, energy efficiency, security of supply, competitiveness, social policy. Here, it’s “reflection time” for the Commission in a 2050 timeframe.

Reference: Council of the European Union, press release, Doc.7478/12, 9.3.2012. (pdf).