Europe and Central Asia
22 Jan 2015

Defining the next decade of EU’s climate and energy policies

windfarm ©
By Sini Erajaa

What is needed is not just a policy framework that fixates on cutting down emissions, but one that puts us on an environmentally sustainable pathway in a wider sense. New catch phrases such as ‘Energy Union’, ‘new governance framework’ have been introduced into the debate while leaving them open to various different interpretations.

2015 will be a year defining what the next decade of climate and energy policies in the EU will look like. It is the year to define what is the level of our commitment beyond the headline percentage targets, what are the conditions under which investors, manufacturers and energy producers will be making their future decisions.

The running decade has been a decade of building a solid legal framework for climate action in the EU and its Member States to meet the 2020 targets. Necessary legislation and support schemes to increase the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, has been implemented.

The results and level of success are still slightly patchy; Emissions are falling but this has been much aided by economic crises and deindustrialization. Efficiency has improved remarkably in some sectors and product groups, for example in cars, but overall energy savings are still very modest. Renewable energy industry has kicked off with impressive speed, and prices of solar panels are plummeting but a majority of the targets is still filled with bioenergy where true environmental and climate benefits are often questionable. Never the less, the direction of travel and the operating space for businesses have been clearly marked.    

For the next decade, high level headline targets for EU’s climate action have been agreed but uncertainty looms over the general political framing of those targets and over the policy and legal tools to make sure those targets will be met. New catch phrases such as ‘Energy Union’, ‘new governance framework’ and ‘EU-wide binding targets’ have been introduced into the debate while leaving them open to various different interpretations.

What is needed is not just a policy framework that fixates on cutting down emissions and production of energy to reach the agreed numbers, but a policy framework that puts us on an environmentally sustainable pathway in a wider sense. Towards which kind of a pathway do the new catch phrases and political priorities of the Commission point to?

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First moment of truth will be a Communication from the Commission about the “Strategic Framework for the Energy Union” expected already during the first months of the year that will be setting the political framing of what an Energy Union encompasses. Will it be one element of EU’s wider energy and climate policies, focusing on energy security and resilience and on more integrated energy markets or will it become an umbrella for all of the Union’s climate and energy policies, leaving climate change mitigation just to be one of the many objectives of energy policy. BirdLife Europe believes that fighting climate change needs to be an economy wide effort that should take place also in sectors beyond energy production, such as agriculture, transport and spatial planning.    

Next moment of truth is expected during the second quarter of the year, when another Commission Communication on the “New governance system for 2030 climate and energy framework” should be released. The effectiveness of the EU wide binding targets, that shouldn’t be translated into national binding targets, as declared by the European Council last October, has already raised many questions and created uncertainty. Even the IEA has highlighted that such uncertainties threaten to slow investments and innovation, especially the renewable energy momentum. The Commission has declared that “a new governance system” will be developed to answer all possible challenges. The nature of this system will define whether the EU wide targets will be left to be political aspirations or drivers of continuation of an ambitious and stable legal framework for renewables and efficiency particularly.

2015 will also be the year to define whether EU climate policies will continue to address the second biggest greenhouse gas emitting sector; transport. Unlike in many other sectors, emissions from transport are still rapidly growing, which should make it difficult to justify a void of policies for the sector. The Commission has never the less earlier suggested removing both the carbon reduction requirement for fuels (part of the Fuel Quality Directive) and requirements for renewable energy use in transport after 2020, the two leading EU initiatives in transport. Whether a void the size of the transport sector will be left in the 2030 climate framework, should be outlined in another Commission Communication on “A holistic approach to sustainable energy in transport” expected later during the year.

A new start is needed since so far the EU initiatives in transport have failed to push for a wider system change that would for example pave the way to electrification.

One of the biggest efforts in transportation, efforts to replace fossil fuels with biofuels has already proven to be a big failure, which the Commission has also recognized. To start off with the right foot on transport policies in the next decade, it’s crucial that the year 2015 sees the finalization of the deal to limit the use of food and other crops for fuel, creating more emissions through indirect land use change.

The lessons learned from the short sighted push for biofuels should be carefully collected already during this year as well. The EU cannot afford to design another decade of renewable energy and emission reduction policies based on the false assumption that all forms of bioenergy create zero carbon emissions and ignoring the limits of sustainable biomass supply.      

All of these upcoming communications, policy documents and decisions will be crucial in framing the political context, the political opportunities and policy options on the table for the 2030 framework. The key pieces of legislation – the Emissions Trading Scheme, Renewable Energy Directive and Energy Efficiency Directive – that are still expected to be the back bone of the 2030 framework, will be reviewed in the space provided by the framing of these policy documents and following debates. While actual legal proposals won’t be seen during 2015, there will be lot of head scratching and debating done in the offices of the Commission officials already during this year. Evaluations of current legislation and consultations on their review will be carried out throughout the year.

2015 is the year to plant in new ideas and open up new perspectives. It’s also the time to align EU’s climate and energy policies to be in harmony with nature, aligned with aims of our other environmental policies, recognizing the limits of our ecosystem’s capacities. It’s time to truly recognize that fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity is a double imperative, and that one fight can be fought at the expense of the other.    

Finally all of the internal work carried out in the EU to define, frame and outline what our climate and energy policies are all about, will also define the role that EU can play on the road to Paris, to the 21st Conference of Parties of the international climate negotiations where a new global climate agreement needs to be reached. It won’t be enough to go to Paris with just one number, - 40% of greenhouse gas savings, in our pocket. The EU needs to be able to show that we have tangible plans in making that target happen and the political willingness to go beyond it.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.