'Burnt out' EU likely to curb climate goals

wind turbine The push for renewable energy across the EU has been driven by mandatory targets

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Binding national targets on renewable energy are expected to be dropped from new EU proposals due to be unveiled on Wednesday.

The UK has lobbied hard to have the mandatory 2030 target watered down, saying it would drive up energy bills.

The EU executive will also outline a goal on emissions cuts for 2030, set to be 35 or 40% below 1990 levels.

But green groups said the proposals lacked ambition and were the acts of a "burnt out" Commission.

Seven years ago, the EU set out a three-pronged energy and climate strategy for 2020.

Start Quote

We are moving from an ambitious targets and timetables approach to a classical muddling through approach”

End Quote Dr Oliver Geden Institute for International and Security Affairs

Emissions of greenhouse gases were to be cut by 20%, energy efficiency was to be improved by a similar amount and one fifth of all energy had to come from renewable resources.

Artificial constraints

The binding renewables target has been embraced by countries like Germany where a decision to get out of nuclear in 2011 meant a focus on wind and solar.

With huge government subsidies, installations of renewables soared.

But other countries, including the UK and Poland, have argued strongly that the mandatory target approach was too restrictive, and was preventing them cutting emissions in the most financially efficient way.

Commission Proposals 2030

  • Emissions cuts - The Commission is divided on the scale of CO2 cuts, with some pressing for 35%, and others like climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard arguing for 40%. Many green groups say even this figure is "dangerously low"
  • Renewable energy - The European Parliament wants a 30% binding target for renewables but the negotiations seemed to be heading to a figure between 24-27%. It remains to be seen if this figure will be binding on individual countries.
  • Emissions Trading - The recession has made too many carbon trading permits available and prices have collapse. The Commission hopes its proposals, which have general agreement, will shore up the market.
  • Shale gas - The Commission is expected to outline common environment and health rules but they would not be legally binding.
  • Pricing - A report on the price of energy, outlining the impact of renewables on consumer costs is set to be released by the Commission at the same time as the Energy and Climate package

Along with France and Spain, they have lobbied hard to have it removed from the new proposals for 2030.

"It makes no sense to impose artificial constraints on how individual countries meet emissions targets," said a spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

"We are determined to keep people's energy bills as low as possible and that means having the flexibility to cut emissions in the most cost effective way".

A source within the Commission said that going forward, there would be a EU wide target on renewable energy for 2030, but it was likely that there would not be binding national targets.

The Commission is also set to unveil a more modest carbon emissions cut target, expected to be either 35 or 40%, reflecting the changed economic circumstances since 2007.

"We are moving from an ambitious targets and timetables approach to a classical muddling through approach," said Dr Oliver Geden from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

"It is a changed world, it is not just about the financial crisis, it is also the result of changes in international climate policy.

"There is not the 'we can change the world' optimism, they are retreating a little."

Connie EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard has been criticised by green groups

With European elections due this Spring and a new set of Commissioners to be selected in the Autumn, there is a sense among some critics that the incumbents are very keen to agree a new set of proposals.

Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has been singled out by some green groups for making too many compromises to achieve agreement.

"That's a burned out commissioner, she's achieved practically nothing over the past four years," said Brook Riley from Friends of the Earth.

"She wants a political win in the last few months in office, she's almost desperate, that's not the frame of mind you want to try and steer through something as important as this dossier."

As well as proposals on emissions cuts, the Commission will set out its thinking on shale gas. It is likely that they will suggest a series of non-binding recommendations as opposed to a EU wide regulation.

The Commission will also outline an effort to reform the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The price of carbon has collapsed over the past year due to an excess of carbon permits.

The Commission's proposals will go forward for consideration at heads of government meetings in March and June this year.

Some critics believe that the climate and energy plan may be watered down even further at these meetings.

"There is this huge rift within the EU on energy and climate policy. Since 2010, they haven been able to decide on anything substantial," said Dr Geden.

"The member states don't like what they have to do now and the less ambitious states are in a better position."

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

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