Europe and Central Asia
3 Dec 2014

EU Climate Policy: why it will not work

Carbon reach peatlands drained to grow trees in Latvia © Ariel Brunner
By Sini Erajaa

After long hours of debating, negotiating and compromising, on 23 October, EU Prime Ministers agreed on the headline targets for EU’s fight against climate change for the 2020 - 2030 period. EU will strive to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 40% compared to levels in 1990, increase the share of renewable energy to 27% and increase energy efficiency by 27%.

At first glance it might seem like the path has been set and all we need to do now is start marching forward, but in reality the debate has only begun. Deciding what these high level targets will in reality contain and how we plan to achieve them, is fundamental for the effectiveness and integrity of EU’s climate action.

For conservation groups like BirdLife Europe there is still much work to be done:

The target for improving energy efficiency was once again left to be not legally binding although experience has shown that non-binding targets are easy to miss. The level of energy consumption has a huge impact on the amount of investments and efforts needed to reach the renewables target, which is measured as a share of the final energy consumption. Previous research by BirdLife Europe has shown that the decarbonization of the energy sector without damaging the natural environment is very difficult without cutting energy use. The amounts of biomass that can be burned or wind mills that can be built also have limits. 

Increased deployment of renewable energy is currently EU’s N°1 effort to reduce greenhouse gases but it’s often overlooked that more than half of this renewable energy is actually bioenergy, for which the level of true GHG savings is highly questionable. There is a fair chance that a good part of the renewable energy used, like 1st generation biofuels in transportation, wood burned for electricity or maize burned for biogas, does actually not decrease the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A lot of the success of the 27% renewable energy target for 2030 to actually decrease emissions will depend on how much and what kind of bioenergy will we be using. Limiting the share of bioenergy in renewables mix would leave the truly low carbon renewables, which have criticized the 27% target to be unambitious, more room to grow.

A third example of an area where much work is still to be done is the inclusion of a whole new sector in EU’s climate policies. Emissions from land and forests - from draining of peatlands or increasing loggings of forests - are not included in EU's current climate targets, but will be included in the climate policies of the next decade. It won't be a straightforward thing to do, since the current 1990 baseline for emission reductions doesn't include the land sector either. How will the emissions from land and forests be accounted for and against what kind of baseline will the emissions be measured has a big impact on the overall integrity of the GHG reduction target ? BirdLife Europe pushes for honest and robust accounting as a precondition for the inclusion of the sector under the agreed targets.

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BirdLife Europe will be at the frontline to request that EU's climate and energy policies will be drafted to address the double imperative of fighting climate change while halting biodiversity loss.

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.