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EU Commission limbers up for fight over new climate targets

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The Carbon Brief

European politicos are returning from their summer holidays to find inboxes full of emails about the EU 2030 climate target. The European Commission is beginning to consider how to extend its climate targets, and early indications suggest agreement won’t be easy to find.

European Union nations are currently required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent compared to 1990 levels, and provide for 20 per cent their energy consumption from renewable sources, by 2020. In March, the commission asked member states what targets they want extending to 2030.

The responses are in, and a quick flick through reveals three key battles the commission can expect to become embroiled in en route to renewing the EU’s climate goals.

Zero, one, or three targets

For starters, the commission will need to decide what kind of target – or targets – to implement. That could be some task, as Europe’s traditional big dogs don’t currently see eye to eye.

The UK wants a single greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. It suggests all EU countries should cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, with the option of increasing this to 50 per cent if there is a new international agreement in 2015.

Germany and France have other ideas, however. While the emissions reduction goal isn’t controversial, France wants two additional targets requiring countries to increase energy efficiency and ramp up renewable energy generation. Angela Merkel’s government didn’t submit an official consultation response – one of twelve member states that chose not to do so – but is thought to favour extending the renewable energy target.

The UK isn’t keen on the renewable energy target, however. If it was extended, it could mean the government would have to carry on subsidising large amounts of wind, solar and marine technology. The government has indicated it would also like to pursue other low carbon energy options, such as nuclear and carbon capture and storage technology. Reducing emissions is more important and the market should be free to decide which energy technologies are used to make the cuts, the government argues.

Some member states want no targets at all, however. Poland – which still relies on fossil fuels for much of its energy – says the EU shouldn’t tie itself into ambitious targets before it knows what the rest of the world is willing to commit to in 2015.

With so many competing priorities, the commission has its work cut out to persuade Europe’s member states to agree on a single approach.

European Parliament

It’s not just member states the commission has to satisfy. The European Parliament has a bloc of MEPs willing and able to obstruct the commission’s climate policy plans – as a vote to reform the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) earlier this year proved.

Unfortunately for the commission, one of the two MEPs responsible for liaising with the commission on the targets – Polish MEP, Konrad Szymański – is against committing member states to emission reductions.

Szymański tabled a successful amendment to block ETS reform earlier this year, and looks set to attempt the same feat with any new climate targets. He will co-author a document outlining the parliament’s position which could influence how a large group of MEPs vote on the targets.

As such, Szymański could prove to be a formidable obstacle to the commission’s climate policy plans.

New governments

The commission isn’t expected to make a final decision until a few months before a pivotal United Nations meeting to agree international targets in December 2015. But two years is a long time in politics, and the commission will have to decide how it might deal with possible changes of government.

By then, Prime Minister Miliband may have joined his German and French counterparts in supporting a renewable energy target, as Labour has indicated he would. While that would remove one obstacle, it could mean the commission is caught in a spiky political situation where it must choose between the fulfilling the wishes of the large states or representing the Union’s smaller, newer members.

Energy ministers are expected to meet on September 20th to discuss the plans. It certainly won’t be last time. The commission had better limber up – this fight could last a while.

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