Today's proposals on climate change by the European Commission mark the opening salvo in a debate on climate change and energy that is likely to continue for at least a year at EU level as member states and the European Parliament debate the issue.
The package removes the obligation on member states to reach specific renewable energy targets by 2030.
It represents the first change to EU climate policy in more than six years, but has already been clouded in controversy.
The European Commission was accused of a fudge today in its abandonment of specific targets for member states’ use of renewable energy, while at the same time committing to an “overall” EU target of 27 per cent.
While countries will be obliged to devise a national energy plan, outlining their plans for renewable energy, European Commission officials said yesterday that no mandatory targets were envisaged for member states at this stage. This differs from the status quo, which obliges countries to contribute to a mandatory 20 per cent reduction in emissions.
Countries including Britain had argued against mandatory targets for renewables, with David Cameron arguing that a binding renewable target would cost British consumers £9 billion a year until 2030. Instead, it is concentrating on nuclear energy and looking at the possibility of exploring shale gas.
Ireland was one of eight countries that wrote to the European climate change and energy commissioners last month urging the introduction of renewable targets.
The big question for Ireland will be what impact this will have on its contentious plans to strengthen the national grid, via the construction of pylons, and its support of wind energy investment.
Minister for the Environment Pat Rabbitte insisted yesterday it would have no effect on Ireland's policy but the removal of binding targets post-2020 has undoubtedly undermined one of the Government's key arguments for renewable energy.
The real concern will be the impact the new EU rules will have on the plan to export wind to the UK. Just as Spain was left with an excess of solar energy when France decided not to import such energy from its neighbours, there is a fear about Britain's commitment to take Irish wind energy, particularly if it is now bound by EU renewable targets, although supporters of wind energy production point out that the UK will have a need for energy, particularly renewables, before 2020.
Environmental agencies criticised the commission’s proposal of a 40 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, with Greenpeace arguing that it simply signified “business as usual”.
However, the commission pointed out that the political will to increase greenhouse gas reduction targets further was not there, arguing that a number of member states favoured much lower targets.
Europe was still the global leader in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, Connie Hedegaard, Commissioner for Climate Action, said. "If all bigger economies followed our example the world would be a better place."