Scrapping EU renewable targets after 2020 makes no sense

von Dr. Peter Nagel

● By Prof. Erik Gawel, Paul Lehmann, and Sebastian Strunz, all Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research ●

The European Commission has presented a new climate and energy policy framework for 2030 that focuses heavily on emissions reductions.

Currently the EU implements “20-20-20” targets, which require a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, an 20% increase in the share of renewables in electricity generation, and a 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

But the European Commission now intends to scrap the energy efficiency target and weaken the renewable energy target. Though the proposal includes a “binding” EU-wide renewable energy target of 27%, this would not be translated into national targets through EU legislation, leaving “flexibility” for member states. It is questionable, however, whether flexible targets are targets at all.

Of course such a move has been lobbied for by business and industry groups, such as Businesseurope, and is supported by some EU member states including the UK and the Czech Republic who argue it should be for individual nations to decide.

But some economists also approve of the idea, such as Harvard’s Robert Stavins, who claims that a single emissions target “would be good news for the economy and the environment”.

It’s not all about climate change

We should all rejoice, then? At first glance, the argument for a single greenhouse gas emissions target alone is appealing. The EU emissions trading scheme, the EU’s main instrument for driving down emissions, uses market forces. Stavins argues that adding further targets and policies for renewables and energy efficiency only distort these incentives, making them more expensive, and in turn raising the cost of reducing emissions ...

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