Commission sets out plans on tackling climate change

The European Commission has adopted an ambitious package of proposals to help the EU meet its commitments on climate change and address energy security issues, the documents set out in concrete
terms how the EU will achieve its ’20 / 20 / 20 by 2020′ goals, which were agreed by EU leaders last year.

These goals entail reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels, boosting energy efficiency by 20%, and ensuring renewables account for 20% of all energy consumption, all by

The package includes an updated Emissions Trading System; specific, binding national targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in each Member State; a new approach to setting renewable
targets, again using a country-by-country approach; a plan to promote carbon capture and storage technologies; and new state aid rules for environmental protection measures.

‘Responding to the challenge of climate change is the ultimate political test for our generation,’ said Commission President José Manuel Barroso. ‘Our mission, indeed our duty, is to
provide the right policy framework for transformation to an environment friendly European economy and to continue to lead the international action to protect our planet.’

The Commission is keen to emphasise the business opportunities offered by the switch to a low carbon economy.

‘Building on Europe’s pioneering emissions trading system, this package demonstrates to our global partners that strong action to fight climate change is compatible with continued economic
growth and prosperity,’ stated Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. ‘It gives Europe a head start in the race to create a low carbon global economy that will unleash a wave of innovation and
create new jobs in clean technologies.’

Among the proposals is a plan to strengthen the EU’s carbon market by including more greenhouse gases and getting all major industrial emitters involved. According to the Commission, revenues
from the ETS, which could amount to ?50 billion a year by 2020, should be ploughed back into the energy sector to support research and innovation in areas such as renewables and carbon capture
and storage. The funds could also be used to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

As was expected, the proposed Directive on renewable energies includes a target of a 10% minimum share of biofuels in transport by 2020, which will apply across all Member States. Following
criticism from a number of quarters regarding the sustainability of biofuels, the Commission has set out stringent environmental criteria to ensure that biofuels achieve a minimum level of
greenhouse savings and do not conflict with other environmental policies.

Another document in the package concerns carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, in which CO2 is removed from industrial exhaust gases and transported to suitable geological formations,
where it is stored. The storage side is already relatively well developed; European research projects have improved our understanding of how CO2 behaves when injected into geological
formations, and CO2 is already being stored in sites such as the Sleipner project in the North Sea. Studies of this site have confirmed that the CO2 is securely confined in the reservoir.

The CO2 stored at Sleipner is removed from natural gas before the gas is burnt. However, setting up a large-scale system to remove CO2 from the exhaust gases of a power plant remains a major
challenge. The European Technology Platform on Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plant has identified 15 full-scale demonstration projects which could go ahead with the right economic framework.
One country which is leading the field in CCS is Norway. It plans to set up a full scale CCS project at Mongstad in western Norway, which should be operational by 2014. Although not an EU
Member State, Norway is involved in a number of pan-European CCS initiatives and is keen to see the technologies deployed across the EU.

Obviously implementing all these policies will cost money. However, Commissioner Barroso underlined the point that action would be cheaper than inaction. The Commission calculates that the
package will cost ‘less than 0.5% of GDP by 2020’, equivalent to ‘about ?3 a week for everyone’. In contrast inaction would cost more than 10 times that.

The Slovenian Presidency of the EU welcomed the Commission’s proposals, pledging to start a debate on it at all levels straight away. ‘We are counting on the constructive approach and support
of the Member States and the European Parliament leading to final adoption of the package by spring 2009 at the latest,’ a Presidency statement reads.

Meanwhile MEPs gave a broad welcome to the proposals, with Marianne Thussen of the European People’s Party – European Democrats describing it as a historic day. ‘This Commission will be
remembered as the Commission which presented a masterplan for energy,’ she said.

The Liberals also welcomed the proposals, but said that much more needs to be done to tackle climate change. The Socialists remained sceptical about the biofuels target, with MEP Hannes Swoboda
commenting ‘we have to have better technology for biofuels’. The Green party’s Claude Turmes welcomed the proposals but expressed his fear that the legislation could be undermined by infighting
between the Member States on their renewables targets.

The renewable energy industry hailed the proposals as ‘a major tool for a sustainable market development of the renewable energy sector’. ‘The long awaited Directive contains the necessary
elements which should help meet the 20% target,’ commented Arthouros Zervos, President of the European Renewable Energy Council. ‘Now we expect the Member States and the Parliament to further
improve the legislative document and agree on the Directive this year since time is running out.’

Green groups were less enthusiastic about the proposals, which they say do not go far enough. Both WWF and Greenpeace say they would have liked to have seen a commitment to cut emissions by 30%
by 2020. They also claim that the environmental criteria relating to biofuels are not strong enough.

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