We cannot afford to hesitate anymore

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According to the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Arias Cañete, Europe’s Energy Union has achieved a great deal in helping move towards a more energy-efficient and carbon-neutral world – but he fully acknowledges that there is still a long way to go and that a coherent combined effort is still required in order to hit ambitious targets. Here, Commissioner Cañete outlines his pride in what has been done so far and looks at what needs to happen now

Commissioner Arias Cañete, in charge of Climate Action and Energy at the European Commission, is a passionate advocate of the commission’s climate and energy framework, which promotes a gradual transition away from the use of fossil fuels towards a climate neutral economy. He calls it “the world’s most ambitious and advanced framework” dealing with this challenge, but is open about the fact that though the actions that have been taken over the past few years have been far reaching and have taken place in “record time”, he believes there is still a long way to go.

Speaking in Brussels earlier this year, Commissioner Cañete spoke about these achievements and the completion of the EU’s Energy Union, which, together with the EU’s climate policy became a top political priority for the commission under President Juncker and an “extensive technical manual to achieving our climate and energy goals by 2030”. But he also believes that the commission has achieved far more than simply “translating the European Council conclusions into action points, and we have now agreed all the necessary legislation to meet our 2030 targets”.

Indeed, Commissioner Cañete went on to list these achievements as positive actions that have led to new targets, more funding and a further integration of the European energy market. He lists the achievements as brokering the Paris Agreement that “ensured its quick entry into force and agreed its implementing rulebook in Katowice” as well as the mobilisation of more than 70billion of investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy infrastructure.

He goes further, to include the creation of “an enabling framework for industry to innovate and for clean investments to flow.” This framework includes the 25 per cent climate-mainstreaming in the proposed next EU budget, the sustainable finance initiative, the batteries alliance and the coal regions in transition platform.

“We also agreed on higher targets for renewable energy (32 per cent by 2030) and energy efficiency (32.5 per cent by 2030), which would allow the European Union to reduce emissions by 2030 beyond our current 40 per cent target – to around 45 per cent compared to 1990.”

Meanwhile Commissioner Cañete acknowledged that it was not enough for the EU to contribute to the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals and so “we set a long-term vision for a prosperous, modern and climate neutral economy by 2050.”

A particular high point for the EU in terms of its climate and energy strategy, Commissioner Cañete believes, is the integrated European energy market. Here he listed the achievements to date as being: the Baltic states’ electricity markets now being “on the way to be synchronised with the Continental Electricity Network”; the interconnection between the Iberian peninsula and the rest of Europe being “enhanced”; the increase in gas diversification and the end of “dependency on a single supplier in many Member States” and, with energy being traded more freely across borders, “wholesale electricity prices have decreased by six per cent between 2010 and 2017.”.

Perhaps more important than listing achievements, however, is outlining a clear strategy for the future as well as concrete actions that will ensure policy is delivered and targets are met. Commissioner Cañete concedes that if the Energy Union is to deliver these results, then there are a number of priority actions that need to be taken and that many of these are urgent.

“In 2017, the share of renewable energy in the EU energy mix reached 17.52 per cent. This is above the indicative trajectory of 16 per cent

Once again, the Commissioner was able to outline these actions during a speech in Brussels in April 2019, framing the efficacy of the Energy Union framework to be “only as good as its implementation and proper enforcement”. He said: “We need to finalise the swift adoption of the remaining legislative proposals for an effective implementation of our strong and ambitious regulatory framework,”. 

“We need to complete key infrastructure projects to deliver on an integrated European energy market for solidarity. Chief amongst them, the Baltic synchronisation, France/Spain/Portugal interconnections, energy hubs in Central and Southern Europe, and the North Sea Grid.”

He was also clear on the need to keep up the deployment of renewable energy across Europe and step up efforts to save more energy.

“As for renewables, the EU is on track to reach its target for 2020,” he stated. “In 2017, the share of renewable energy in the EU energy mix reached 17.52 per cent. This is above the indicative trajectory of 16 per cent. 11 Member States have already achieved their 2020 target, 10 Member States are already on, or above, their interim trajectories set for 2017-2018, and seven Member States would need to step up efforts to comply with their 2020 targets.”

In terms of energy efficiency, Commissioner Cañete outlined the need to intensify efforts to reach the 2020 target. Following a gradual decrease between 2007 and 2014, energy consumption has started to increase, and it is now slightly above the linear trajectory for the 2020 targets. This needs to change, he said. 

“To prevent this, we have taken an early action. In 2018, the Commission established a dedicated task force on energy efficiency with Member States to fully exploit energy efficiency potentials and look both short-term and long-term solutions. For the period 2021-2030, the Energy Union has been structured with the new Governance Regulation, which will allow Member States to achieve their energy and climate targets in a coherent and most efficient way. All Member States have now officially submitted their draft integrated National Energy and Climate Plans.”

The Commission is currently assessing these plans and there will, potentially follow recommendations in June 2019 which will be looking at elements such as the completeness of the plan, the ambition of objectives, targets and contributions, the adequacy of supporting policies and measures, the coherence, policy interactions and investment needs, and the opportunities for regional cooperation. 

As a preliminary overall assessment,” he said, “I would say many Member States have included headline figures and goals in their plans without detailing the measures and policy tools necessary to meet their objectives. We will be seeking more clarity and information from many Member States as we draft our recommendations.” 

Commissioner Cañete then called for more efficient and democratic decision-making in some energy policy areas, including in the nuclear area.

“It is absolutely essential that our taxation framework gives the right incentives to consumers and facilitates the deployment of key emerging technologies for a climate neutral, energy-efficient and circular economy,” he said.

“Today’s energy taxation framework, which is 16 years old, is clearly outdated in this sense.

“There is just not enough policy coherence between the energy taxation framework and the energy and climate policies and objectives. One of the reasons for this is the unanimity requirement in the area of energy/environmental taxation, which prevents Member States from finding swift agreements on Commission proposals. 

“Also, the European Parliament should have the same role in decision-making as for all other energy and climate policy legislation. This would be possible without a treaty change by means of activating one of the so-called ‘passerelle clauses’ which would allow us to pass to the ordinary legislative procedure.”

Speaking about the Euratom Treaty, Commissioner Cañete said that the treaty provides the most advanced legal framework for nuclear, in particular in the areas of nuclear safety, waste management or radiation protection, but that it was signed in 1957, and has never been adapted. “We believe it needs to evolve in line with a more united, stronger and democratic European Union,” he said.

“We have a little time left to stabilise climate change and fulfil the goals of the Paris Agreement. We have not yet run out of time – but cannot afford to hesitate anymore”

“That is why we propose to reflect on ways to enhance the involvement of the European Parliament and of national Parliaments in policy-making under the Euratom Treaty.

In this regard, the Commission proposes to establish a high-level group of experts assessing how to increase democratic accountability and transparency in the implementation of the Euratom Treaty.”

Finally, Commissioner Cañete moved on to the need for more investment in innovation that will help keep up the momentum that has been created by the completion of the Energy Union. Modernising and decarbonising the EU’s economy will require significant additional investment but, as he pointed out, only around two per cent of GDP is invested in our energy system and related infrastructure and this would have to increase to 2.8 per cent in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“We will need to continue our work on sustainable finance, putting capital markets at the service of the climate. And we will need to make the best use of new financing mechanisms, including the 35 per cent climate-mainstreamed Horizon Europe, the new approved LIFE and Connecting Europe Facility, as well as the InvestEU programme.

Commissioner Cañete is naturally upbeat about the commission’s recent achievements towards a more energy-efficient and carbon neutral world, but he wants to keep up the momentum. “We have a little time left to stabilise climate change and fulfil the goals of the Paris Agreement,” he said. “We have not yet run out of time – but cannot afford to hesitate anymore. We have a duty to act. 

“With our climate-neutral strategy by 2050, I believe we have sketched out how this can be done, and presented a solid analysis of why and how Europe can achieve climate neutrality; why this model can be replicated by other countries in the world and how climate neutrality, economic prosperity and social fairness can and must go together. H

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