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.

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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