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EU Climate Summit Commits to 2030 Carbon Cuts

Europe's deal to cut carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030 is not quite what renewables leaders wanted

2 min read
Men in jumpsuits standing on pipes.
Workers at a shale gas exploration site in Poland
Photo: Bartek Sadowski/Bloomberg via Getty Images

European leaders wrapped up a two-day climate summit in Brussels last week with a deal to cut the European Union's total greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels. This would continue a downward trend – the EU is already on track to meet a 20 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 – but the ageement is weak relative to Europe's prior ambitions to confront climate change.  

Investors in green tech pushed agressively for the deal, seeking a longterm signal that the European market will continue to reward advances in energy efficiency and low-carbon energy production. The deal is also a shot in the arm for the Paris global climate talks, scheduled for December 2015, which will seek to achieve the decisive binding global targets for greenhouse gas reductions that failed to emerge from the 2009 Cophenhagen climate talks.

What the deal lacks is specificity and ambition regarding the mechanisms by which European countries are to achieve the carbon reduction. "Key aspects of the deal that will form a bargaining position for global climate talks in Paris next year were left vague or voluntary," reported The Guardian

The deal sets only voluntary targets for use of renewable energy and increased energy efficiency, and those targets are lower than renewables leaders such as the U.K. and Germany wanted. Renewable energy would rise from 20 percent in 2020 to 27 percent in 2030, whereas Germany plans to push renewables to 40-45 percent of its power supply by 2025

The EU leaders' deal on energy efficiency, which would also increase from 20 to 27 percent by 2030, represents a step down from a 30 percent target endorsed by the European Commission. 

Last week's summit of the 28 EU leaders were rife with reports of special side deals demanded by individual EU members. Poland, which generates about 90 percent of its power from coal, was the biggest beneficiary, according to European policy news site EurActiv. Poland's new prime minister Ewa Kopacz had threatened to veto any deal that increased Polish power prices, and according to EurActiv she crowed that her delegation had "won" at the summit.

Poland will be allowed to continue providing free allocations of carbon credits to its coal-fired utilities under the EU's carbon cap and trade program. EurActiv reports that Poland will also receive subsidies for power sector upgrades through 2030 worth 7.5 billion zloty (US $2.3 billion). 

Greenpeace EU managing director Mahi Sideridou summed up environmentalists' disappointment with the deal. "The global fight against climate change needs radical shock treatment, but what the EU is offering is at best a whiff of smelling salts," said Sideridou, according to the Associated Press.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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