European Commission Issues Low Carbon Roadmap to 2050

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 8, 2011 (ENS) – The European Commission today adopted a roadmap for transforming the European Union into a competitive low carbon economy by 2050. At the same time, the Commission said if business continues as usual, the EU will achieve only half its target of 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency above 2005 levels by 2020.

The roadmap describes what the Commission calls “the cost-effective pathway” to reach the EU’s objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. But environmentalists warn that deeper emissions cuts must be made much earlier, at least 40 percent by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Commission today also adopted an energy efficiency plan it said would strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and reduce energy dependence, while decreasing the level of emissions. Over the past two decades, emissions have gone down by 16 percent, and the EU economy has grown by 40 percent over the same period.

The Janschwalde Power Station in Brandenburg on the German-Polish border burns brown coal, emitting greenhouse gases. (Photo credit unknown)

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said, “Despite progress, our estimates show that we need a further decisive and coordinated action on energy efficiency, without which the EU will not meet its objective of 20 percent energy savings by 2020.”

The energy efficiency plan proposes a new binding target requiring governments to refurbish at least three percent of their buildings each year and introduces energy efficiency criteria in public procurement.

It encourages energy efficiency renovations for private buildings and upgrades in energy performance of appliances, industrial equipment, power and heat generation.

The plan focuses on the roll-out of smart grids and smart meters providing consumers with the information and services necessary to optimize their energy consumption and calculate energy savings.

Oettinger said, “It should transform our daily lives and generate financial savings of up to €1000 per household every year. It should improve the EU’s industrial competitiveness with a potential for the creation of up to two million jobs.”

The Commission says it has taken the initiative because leading the global transition to a low carbon and resource-efficient economy will have multiple benefits for the European Union.

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said, “We need to start the transition towards a competitive low carbon economy now. The longer we wait, the higher the cost will be. As oil prices keep rising, Europe is paying more every year for its energy bill and becoming more vulnerable to price shocks. So starting the transition now will pay off.”

“The good news is we don’t need to wait for technological breakthroughs,” said Hedegaard. “The low carbon economy can be built by further developing proven technologies that exist already today.”

The roadmap takes the form of a Communication addressed to the European Council of Ministers, European Parliament and EU agencies. The Commission invites them, member states and stakeholders to take the roadmap into account in the further development of EU and national policies for achieving a low carbon economy by 2050.

The Commission will monitor the implementation of the energy efficiency plan and translate these actions into a legislative proposal in the coming months.

It will report on progress in spring 2013, and if the review shows that the overall EU target is unlikely to be achieved, the Commission will propose legally binding targets for 2020.

As a next step, the Commission intends to develop specific sectoral roadmaps in cooperation with stakeholders in each sector.

“In this transition, all economic sectors need to contribute, including agriculture, construction and transport,” Hedegaard said. “By describing the cost effective pathway to move Europe to a low carbon future, our roadmap provides a clear and predictable framework for business and govenrments to prepare their low-carbon strategies and long-term investments.”

The European Council of Ministers has endorsed the objective of reducing EU emissions of greenhouse gases to 80-95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 as Europe’s long-term contribution to preventing dangerous climate change.

The roadmap sets out a cost-efficient pathway to reach this goal, recommending that Europe should achieve it largely through domestic measures since by mid-century international credits to offset emissions will be less widely available than today.

The Commission says that by 2050 the EU should reduce emissions by 80 percent compared to 1990 levels through domestic action alone. Any credits for renewable energy projects in other countries would increase the overall emissions reduction beyond 80 percent.

The comprehensive economic modeling underlying the roadmap shows that to achieve an 80 percent domestic reduction by 2050, cuts of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and of 60 percent by 2040.

Current policies are projected to reduce domestic emissions to -30 percent in 2030 and -40 percent in 2050.

The Commission’s analysis also shows that the most cost-efficient pathway to the 2050 target requires a 25 percent emissions cut in 2020, to be achieved through internal measures alone, rather than the current 20 percent reduction target.

The roadmap shows that this 25 percent domestic cut can be reached in 2020 if the EU meets its 20 percent energy efficiency improvement goal – reaffirmed by heads of state and government at the February 4 Energy Summit – and fully implements the “Climate and Energy” package of measures for 2020 adopted in 2009, the Commission said.

But Friends of the Earth UK said today that the Commission’s roadmap will not cut EU greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to prevent dangerous climate change and could lead to a three degree Celsius rise in global temperature.

Acetyls chemical complex at BP’s Saltend Works, Hull, England emits greenhouse gases. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto.com)

The roadmap recommends that EU governments cut their national emissions by 25 percent by 2020, but analysis by Friends of the Earth shows that this is almost certain to lead to a two degree C. rise in global temperatures.

“This is the ‘tipping point’ that scientists say should be avoided to prevent the worst impacts of climate change such as more frequent severe weather and the loss of species and habitats,” the advocacy organization said in a statement.

Friends of the Earth’s Head of Climate Change Mike Childs said, “If these plans go ahead, European governments are effectively abandoning any realistic hope of keeping global temperatures rises below two degrees, locking us into catastrophic climate change.”

“If the EU is serious about tackling climate change it must slash its emissions by 40 percent by 2020, without buying carbon credits from abroad,” said Childs.

“Saving energy is the best way of reducing climate changing emissions,” said Childs. “It is senseless that the EU is delaying stronger action on this until 2013 when it is already lagging woefully behind its own target. By investing heavily in these areas we can create thousands of new jobs, protect ourselves against the rising price of oil, and tackle climate change.”

The Commission’s energy efficiency plan was dismissed as “flimsy and weak” by the giant green umbrella organization European Environmental Bureau, EEB, whichrepresents more than 140 member organizations from 31 countries.

The EEB welcomed the Low Carbon Roadmap 2050 for its “much needed long term vision on carbon reduction” but warned that attention must remain on short term goals.

“What was once billed as an ‘action’ plan is now a plan with little direction and no action. It’s a plan which could be leading us down a blind alley and lacks any sense of commitment or urgency,” said Catherine Pearce, EEB’s senior policy officer for energy policy.

EEB is calling for a “full range of genuine, quantified measures across the whole energy supply chain, supported with binding targets” to compel the 27 EU Member States to save energy.

“Waiting until 2013 to review the need for stronger measures only leaves us stuck with the same dirty old technologies. This is wrong and irresponsible,” said Pearce. “Proposed legislation for the summer should come with binding targets and comprehensive measures to deliver the required savings as clearly set out in today’s 2050 roadmap.”

The Commission estimates that building the low carbon EU economy will require, over the next 40 years, additional annual investment equivalent to 1.5 percent of EU GDP – or €270 billion – on top of overall current investment of 19 percent of GDP.

The Commission said this increase would return Europe to investment levels before the economic crisis that began in 2008.

Much or all of the extra investment will be recovered through lower import bills for oil and gas, said the Commission, which estimates these savings at €175-320 billion a year.

Fuel costs are paid to third countries, while investment would create added value in the European Union, reduce Europe’s dependence on energy imports and vulnerability to oil price shocks, stimulate new sources of growth, preserve existing jobs and create new ones, the Commission said.

Air pollution and associated health costs would be cut, and the Commission estimates that total benefits from better air quality could reach up to €88 billion a year by 2050.

To reach the 20 percent energy savings goal, it may be necessary to set aside some of the emission allowances from the pool of allowances that is to be auctioned by the Member States from 2013 under the EU Emissions Trading System.

“This set-aside would be built up gradually and will respect emission allowances already held by companies,” the Commission said. “Without a set-aside, energy savings achieved by one company would result, via relatively lower demand for allowances, in weakening of the price of allowances. This could prompt another company to produce more, consume more energy and emit more carbon dioxide.”

“As a result, net energy savings would be low or non-existent,” the Commission said, and “due to the stable Emissions Trading System cap, no net reductions of emissions would be achieved. The set-aside would neutralize this effect, supporting net energy savings and emissions reductions.”

Click here for the Low Carbon Roadmap to 2050.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.