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.
Peter Fairley has been tracking energy technologies and their environmental implications globally for over two decades, charting engineering and policy innovations that could slash dependence on fossil fuels and the political forces fighting them. He has been a Contributing Editor with IEEE Spectrum since 2003.