Van Rompuy focusing on EU climate policy as tenure draws to close

Opinion: plan for 2030 has to contend with formidable national challenges

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy is accompanied by his grandchildren and EU leaders  during the group photocall at the EU summit. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy is accompanied by his grandchildren and EU leaders during the group photocall at the EU summit. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

As European Council president Herman Van Rompuy arrived for yesterday’s summit, the former Belgian premier was well aware that this could be his last time in the council chair. Following his attendance at the climate summit in New York a month ago, Van Rompuy has intensified his focus on the EU climate change negotiations. With former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk due to succeed Van Rompuy on December 1st, EU sources say Van Rompuy is anxious to secure his legacy, with agreement on a climate change package a key priority.

It’s a Herculean task. EU leaders last night were locked in talks on what has emerged as one of the most divisive EU issues of recent times. At issue is the EU’s climate change framework for 2030, the successor to the current policy which expires in 2020. The 2020 package involves a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions, a 20 per cent share of energy consumption from renewable sources and a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency, with specific national targets set for each member state. The figures under consideration for the 2030 package are a 40 per cent reduction in emissions, a 27 per cent renewables target and a 27 per cent energy efficiency commitment. To achieve the overall 40 per cent target, sectors covered by the EU emissions trading system would reduce their emissions by 43 per cent, while those in the non-ETS sector, including agriculture and environment, would cut emissions by 30 per cent.

Greenpeace rejection

For environmental organisations these figures are unacceptable. Greenpeace, which has been pushing for a 55 per cent overall emission target, said the 27 per cent renewable target would mean the renewable energy sector would grow by just 1.4 per cent a year in the decade to 2030 compared with 6.4 per cent currently.

Together with other NGOs, it also wants both the renewable and energy-efficiency targets to be binding at a national level, a requirement opposed by countries such as Britain, as it prioritises nuclear energy and shale gas.

The lack of a national, binding renewable target could have implications for countries that want to export renewable energy such as Ireland. Just as Britain pulled out of an agreement earlier this year that would have seen Ireland export wind energy to it, nuclear-focused France has told Spain it does not require Spain’s excess solar energy. The lack of a binding national target means that countries like Britain and France would not be obliged to increase their renewable energy consumption.

Economic difficulties

The EU has long been a leader on tackling climate change. But the deterioration in Europe’s economic circumstances since the negotiation of the last package has changed the dynamics of the debate. Most countries now concede that the business case for investment in climate change needs to be made, given concerns about Europe’s competitiveness. The prominence of the former communist countries of eastern Europe in the negotiations is also crucial. Staunchly opposed to a strengthening of EU climate-change targets, some member states have threatened to veto the agreement.

A likely outcome is that the EU’s targets will be agreed but the tricky business of calculating national requirements will be deferred. This will allow the EU to fulfil its requirements to have EU targets in place for next year’s climate summit in Paris, while leaving the negotiation of national targets to another day.

Van Rompuy’s imminent departure from the European Council may have given renewed impetus to this week’s talks.

Whether it will be enough to focus minds to deliver an ambitious climate-change strategy is another matter.

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