EU policy makers -Think not what you can do to save energy, think what energy savings can do for you

Posted by epopress on 07/01/14

By Adam White, Research Coordinator at WWF European Policy Office’s Climate and Energy Unit

This article was first published in “Solidarity: Towards 2030 ambitions in energy policy”, a publication by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies

Having your own energy scenario is fast becoming the price of entry into the debate over the future shape of the EU’s energy system. NGOs have them, businesses have them, and governments have them. The European Commission has many of them. If scenarios are a unifying feature of this debate, then energy efficiency is a unifying feature of those scenarios. Every new way of limiting our production of greenhouse gases depends, usually to a significant extent, on limiting our consumption of energy. Without energy efficiency, none of our plans will work. With it, all of them become cheaper, and easier to achieve. So, surely, energy efficiency should be the one thing all parties can agree on?

Sadly, the opposite is true. Energy efficiency has become the most contentious part of EU climate and energy policy making. Efficiency was left out in the cold when climate and energy policies were agreed up to 2020. While greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energy generation were given the high level political support of legally binding targets for Member States, energy efficiency was only given an indicative target. The weakness of the signal from policy makers makes it hardly surprising that the EU will miss its goal to reduce energy consumption by 20% against business as usual projections, unless further action is taken.

At the crux of the problem is a question of perception. Do you consider using less energy to be positive, or negative? Do you think about what you have to do to save energy, or do you think about what saving energy can do for you? Those in the first group see limitations to economic growth, upfront payments for building renovations and more efficient equipment, and other short term costs. Those in the second group see long term savings on fuel bills, reduced dependence on imported fossil fuels, and lower emissions, among other long term benefits. It seems support for stronger action on energy efficiency varies with the length of the time horizon you are looking at.

How can these two viewpoints be brought together? How can each side of this divide come to balanced and acceptable views of both the costs and the benefits? Could new actors in the debate, such as those who allocate and receive regional and structural EU funding that is often directed towards efficiency, raise the ambitions of policy makers to the point that energy savings take their rightful place at the”- centre of EU climate and energy policy?

WWF’s European Policy Office recently completed new research into exactly these issues and has developed 6 key principles for achieving more momentum and greater ambition on energy efficiency:

  1. The development of future energy savings policy must be coordinated with the development of other climate and energy policies, and included in a 2030 framework;
  2. Policy makers should not wait until the 2014 Energy Efficiency Directive review of progress on the EU 2020 energy savings target before preparing options for the 2030 framework. This would mean missing, yet again, the timeline of the other energy and climate policies. It is simply asking for failure;
  3. Coordinated climate and energy policy development must include detailed modelling of the interaction of binding targets on energy savings, renewable energy, and CO2 emissions reductions (including through the EU ETS);
  4. The effective and timely implementation of the EED by EU Member States is crucial to realising the long term potential for energy savings;
  5. A binding EU target does not exclude binding measures -the two approaches can be complementary;
  6. The agreement to spend at least 20% of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 on climate action must be implemented, with appropriate funding channelled towards the delivery of energy savings.

Ensuring that future policy making is based on these principles will require a break with the failures of the past. The small world of Brussels law making, which becomes smaller still when it is focused on climate and energy in general, and energy efficiency in particular, means this will not be easy.

However, the same WWF research, which included interviews with key players in negotiations over EU energy efficiency policy, highlights three important positive insights:

1. The new context of prolonged economic crisis puts greater premium on saving money by saving energy – for example, meeting the 20% energy savings target would save households over €1,000″each per year;

2. Measures whose primary aim is addressing the economic crisis also provide new opportunities for delivering energy savings;

3. These new opportunities are bringing new actors into the energy savings policy sphere.

New actors will bring a new perspective, unburdened from old arguments. But we must help them to learn fast – by this time next year, the 2030 climate and energy framework should be nearing conclusion.

There is no time to lose

 

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