Energy mix in the EU after COP21


The time has come to make the Paris Agreement real. Renewables are the clear option in the new energy mix. Even in the face of difficulties, the EU should not be less ambitious.

After COP21, and in the midst of the ratification process for the Paris Agreement, the European Commission presented last June a Communication outlining its strategy “to make it real”. According to European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, “this means completing the 2030 climate and energy legislation without delay.” The EC wanted to use this Communication to draw the Member States’ attention to the adequate targets for reducing emissions in the sectors not covered by the Emissions Trading System, such as transport, building and agriculture.

In October 2014 the European Council agreed on the 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework setting out ambitious targets for dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting a low carbon economy by boosting renewable energies and promoting efficiency. The framework fixes three key targets for the year 2030: at least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels); at least 27% share for renewable energy; and, at least 27% improvement in energy efficiency.

Boosting necessary changes

Several future scenarios are possible after COP21. The world’s economy is growing in both production and consumption, therefore will need more energy, yet should also be far more energy-efficient. As we draw closer to 2030, if we are to reach these objectives greater consistency will be needed in the policies that will turn the EU into a ‘low carbon’ economy based on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. If we want to bring the Paris Agreement to life, “we need fast changes in the electricity sector and in private car transport, in addition to a strong energy efficiency improvement in all sectors,” said Statoil’s chief economist Eirik Waerness at a recent event organised by the European Policy Centre here in Brussels.

Today, the EU intends to improve its legislation on renewables in order to ensure that the target set for 2030 will be met. “Throughout this year we shall make a proposal focusing on how to increase regional cooperation between EU countries to ensure that renewables become the driving force of our electric power system,” said the European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, Miguel Arias Cañete. He added that the aim of the EU is to achieve “an energy market in the service of renewable energy, and not vice versa.”

The Bridge Scenario

The most ambitious energy mix scenario in response to the challenges of climate change is the one based heavily on renewable sources of energy. It requires an essential in-depth transformation of the electricity sector, where solar and wind power will account for around 40% of global electricity generation in 2040, compared with the current 5%. Clearly a more rapid change is called for. Major investments in new renewables are required, and, as Waerness said, “we need to take coal out of the system.” Certainly not an easy message for some of the Member States to swallow.

For Laura Cozzi from the International Energy Agency, the ‘Bridge Scenario’ ­– the scenario bridging the period from present day until the year 2030 – relies upon five measures: increasing industrial energy efficiency; higher efficiency in the building and transport sectors; progressive reductions in the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning the construction of new ones; increasing investment in renewable energy technologies in the power sector that is expected to grow from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030; the gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030; and reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production.

If we want the COP 21 become effective we need to move forward, and this requires the energy sector in the European Union to play a crucial role. On one hand, we need to ensure a stable and not too expensive supply of energy that would maintain the competitiveness of European industry. On the other hand, the EU needs to provide a supportive framework for any of its national economies still highly dependent on coal, helping them to move towards renewable sources. In any case, the EU should not reduce its ambition which recognises that the stakes are huge: the threats of global warming and man-made climate change. Both must be addressed with the confidence of sound convictions, deploying all available resources.

Paula Sendin