European Union leaders have agreed to a landmark deal to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years.
The agreement, reached Oct. 24, calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. European Council chair Herman Van Rompuy called the deal the “world’s most ambitious, cost-effective, fair climate energy policy (ever) agreed.”
It also sets a target for the 28-member bloc to obtain 27 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, as well as make a 27 percent improvement in energy efficiency over a business-as-usual scenario. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the agreement puts the EU in the “driving seat” for next year’s international climate negotiations in Paris.
While the key targets sound ambitious, the specifics were watered down in order to gain the approval of several countries that were dragging their feet. In particular, the United Kingdom was not keen to see a deal that had too much teeth. That’s because of a small but vocal anti-EU minority party in the UK, known as the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said Britain has been “taken hostage” because of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s fear of UKIP.
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UKIP has pilloried the climate negotiations and opposes a deal, with many of its top party officials on record as having denied the science of climate change in the past. Opposing a European-wide deal fits into the party’s broader mission of pulling the UK out of the European Union. UKIP’s rise in recent years has David Cameron pandering to the party’s populist right-wing tendencies, critics say. The Prime Minister surely didn’t see his position enhanced when the EU suddenly told Britain to pay an additional 2.1 billion euros into EU coffers by next month because of unexpected improvements in the British economy.
UKIP has tried to raise fears around the energy efficiency mandate, saying that it would result in European bureaucrats regulating ordinary parts of people’s lives, such as banning vacuum cleaners. “The UK has a cost issue, certainly, but this is also all about UKIP and the whole media saga around vacuum cleaners and hair dryers,” one European diplomat said. The debate has echoes of how America’s Tea Party has fought the government over new efficiency standards for light bulbs.
UKIP’s influence was enough to water down the energy efficiency target from 30 percent to 27 percent, and crucially, make the target voluntary instead of binding.
On the renewable energy target, Cameron had more of a substantive disagreement. He hopes to meet the emissions reduction target of 40 percent by 2030 using energy sources such as nuclear power. Two new reactors slated for construction at Hinkley Point in the UK with a combined capacity of 3.2 gigawatts are expected to come online in 2023. This would allow the UK to go a long way towards meeting the emissions target without renewable energy. On the other hand, British opposition is also due to the fact that it is far behind the rest of the bloc in installing renewable energy.
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Poland was the other potential spoiler, and many feared Warsaw would veto the deal all together. Poland still gets about 90 percent of its electricity from coal, making a transition to cleaner energy much more difficult. “My government will not agree to documents that would mean additional costs for our economy and higher energy prices for the consumers,” Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz proclaimed earlier this month.
Leading a bloc of former Soviet Union countries, Poland won concessions from the rest of the EU to provide financial support to ease the transition to cleaner energy. Under the agreement, richer EU countries will likely provide financial assistance for energy upgrades in Eastern Europe.
Again, the deal is a bit weak considering that the EU may hit its 2020 goal – reducing emissions by 20 percent – several years early. Moreover, it may not be strong enough to keep the EU on track to meet its mid-century target of 80 to 95 percent reductions.
On the other hand, relative to the rest of the world’s major polluters, the EU is way ahead of the curve.
By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com
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