On Wednesday this week, the EU published the proposed directive establishing the means for meeting the targets of the EU Energy Plan. Three euros per week for every citizen of the EU is projected to cover the costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. Most controversially, the setting of national goals based on a flat-rate reduction over current levels of renewable use has generated frustration in member states that started early progress in renewable energies. The best-in-class Swedish and Austrians are forced to make more progress than the laggards, who profit by starting on the low-hanging fruit only after being forced to it. Read on to learn the winners, the losers and the pleas for improvement in the wake of this ambitious new move by the EU.France is the winner, Austria is the loser according to the economists. France won points on how to count its nuclear network in the renewables equation, an obvious ground for strife in the minds of many ecologists. Austria on the other hand has lodged a carefully worded protest with the EU complaining that the proposal disadvantages nations that have been models of early progress in energy efficiency and renewables.
The EU is leading the world, shaming the rest into action, claim some. The EU is leading in the wrong direction claim others. Significant concerns met the 10% biofuels in transport minimum requirement. The proposed directive specifies many measures to minimize the law of unintended consequences though. For example, biofuels produced on lands with high biodiversity value or high carbon dioxide-absorption capacities may not be counted into the biofuel used. Biofuels must provide at least a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fuels to count towards the 10% threshold. Mechanisms to balance use of biomass for foodstuff against fuel uses are not specified.
The carbon trading, which underlies the anticipated improvements in many sectors, also remains a controversial provision. The proposal faces a difficult crowd on this issue, as the EU has been once burned by carbon trading programs that resulted in billions of profit for industry with little benefit for the environment. This time, the commission promises, the industries will not be given free "pollution permits" but will have to bid for the right to pollute, driving the cost of emissions up and forcing industry towards energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. The plan also embraces carbon capture and storage options for reducing ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases.
Finally, many say the plan is not bold enough. The groundwork was set already a year ago, when the compromise was made under Merkel's six-month rotation in the EU presidency to set goals based on 20% reductions in emissions. Scientists say that at least 30% reductions are necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. The EU proposal includes provisions to ratchet up to 30% if the world signs a similar commitment. Disappointed parties say the EU sacrificed the opportunity to show true leadership.
At any rate, the proposal is just that. A proposal. Optimists expect improvements with further tinkering. "Improvements", of course, depends on the point of view of the lobbyist advocating the change. And the directive rests heavily on the national action plans for details. The success of the EU Energy Plan will depend on member states that are embracing commitments at the table but behind the scenes are dreading goals many see as unachievable in the timeframe.