The road the EU should not be taking

  • Posted on: 6 May 2016
  • By: Yamina SAHEB

When I was about to graduate, I had a job interview with one of the leading EU energy companies. The hiring manager was highly interested in my profile, but struggled on how an energy efficiency engineer could help his company increase profits. I realise now how audacious it was to imagine that a company who’s business was selling Megawatt would hire someone trained to sell Negawatts. Few years later I was totally demoralized: I had a climate-change denier as a line manager. Each report submitted for approval was scrutinized for the blasphemous words: “climate change”. My boss explained that none of my reports would be approved if the link was explicitly made between energy efficiency and climate change.

My Negawatt misadventure took place 13 years before the European Commission released the Energy Union strategy, which called to “fundamentally rethink energy efficiency and treat it as an energy source in its own right, representing the value of energy saved” and to “ensure energy efficiency and demand-side response compete on equal terms with generation capacity”. As for my climate misadventure, it took place 5 years before the Paris Climate Agreement, which confirmed the prominent role of energy efficiency to “limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.

Earlier this year, I was re-reading the Energy Union strategy, but this time in light of the Paris Climate Agreement. I concluded that 2015 was a vintage year for climate and energy policies. Finally, science has won against the politics of climate and energy! I thought what a great opportunity for the EU domestic climate and energy policies. The timing was perfect, as most of the EU climate and energy legislation has to be reviewed/revised in 2016. And with the Better Regulation package in place, requiring law-makers to consult more and listen better and to ensure the coherence, the EU added- value and the effectiveness of the EU legislation, I thought, “bingo, finally!”. The combination of the Energy Union strategy with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Better Regulation package will finally end the carpet-merchants style negotiations that go on backstage of the EU climate and energy targets.

My reasoning was very simple: the existing EU legislation was designed with the 2°C target in mind. The Paris Climate Agreement is about pushing efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C. Therefore, the Paris Climate Agreement means we have to revise our 2030 climate and energy targets and make them more stringent. I was completely taken aback, when on March 4th, the Environment Council meeting heralded that our current climate and energy targets were fair, ambitious enough and in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. In short, it seems the Paris Climate Agreement will have no implications on our domestic climate and energy policies. How this could be possible? From physics perspective there is a gap of 0.5°C between 2°C and 1.5°C! From the Better Regulation package perspective, we need to be coherent!

My heart sunk on March 14th at the stakeholders’ meeting on the review of the two pillars of the EU energy efficiency framework: the 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive. Here, it was announced that only a few articles would be opened for review, and within those articles opened, only targeted changes will be considered and not the full review of the articles. The revolutionary call of the Energy Union strategy to “fundamentally rethink energy efficiency” seems to be buried! The unambitious announced changes will definitely not put the EU in the path towards the ban of inefficient houses and polluting cars. Replacing a few outdated words by more attractive ones will not deliver a zero building stock nor a zero emissions transport fleet by 2050 to EU citizens. How could this happen? What about the Better Regulation package and its insistence on making sure the EU delivers on the ambitious policy goals set for the New Start for Europe? If we selectively ignore them, these documents do not seem worth the paper they are written on…

I am afraid next time I have to lecture the Millennials, I will have to tell them 2016 appears as yet another year of status quo, rather than the promised year of delivery!

This post was published for the first time on April 5, 2016 on www.eceee.org