EU Climate & Energy Policy: Ending the year with a bang

Barbara Mariani

A landmark year for the EU energy and climate policy draws to a close.

The European institutions are finalising complex agreements on new rules for the internal electricity market as part of the Clean Energy Package adopted by the European Commission in November 2016. Regulations aimed at cutting emissions of light and heavy vehicles are also reaching towards the final stage of negotiations between the Council and the Parliament.

Over the past months, the European co-legislators have already signed off key legislation which will overall boost the European Union’s efforts to cut emissions by 2030 well beyond the target of 40% brought to the COP21 in Paris in 2015. Ambitious targets to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency (+32% and +32.5%), together with emissions cuts in European industrial sectors regulated by the Emissions Trading Directive (-43%) and those expected in the road transport sectors signal that European climate policy retains a real momentum.

The Juncker Commission is leaving a strong energy and climate legacy to the next EU Executive body. The last mile of its commitment is the strategic long-term vision adopted on 28 November for “a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050”. The document is accompanied by a comprehensive assessment of where the European Union is today in decarbonizing its economy and what the future looks like in terms of technology options, investiment needs and costs for society and the economy.

The ball is now on the national governments’ court, as they will have to turn all these commitments into difficult decisions on policy measures in their National Energy and Climate Plans due by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, the UN Climate Conference held in Poland (COP24) over the last weeks has not been the awaited breakthrough to tighten global efforts and has failed to come up with that sense of urgency called for by the International Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C. The message of science is clear: more global action on climate is needed and is needed now, if we want to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. There was at least progress on the rulebook for delivering the Paris Agreement.

The overall impression is that global climate policy is missing a leader. French President Emmanuel Macron, who had seemed to want to take that role, is facing with countries backsliding from the Paris Agreement and has huge problems at home.

What is happening in France, leaving aside the wider national politics, confirms how challenging it is to turn climate policies into decisions on whom should bear the costs.

As we are moving towards the European elections amid significant political instability, strategic dossiers for the EU climate and energy policy are still in progress, such as sustainable finance, the digital agenda, the Multiannual Financial Framework, the several financing tools (Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon Europe, Innovation Fund), which will be fundamental to achieve the EU’s climate and energy targets.

On the whole, there are a few conflicting signals about the future of energy and climate policy, not in the least because the United Kingdom, which has helped to lead this agenda over the past 15 years, is due to leave the EU in March 2019. Next year national elections in a number of important Member States (Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Estonia, Finland) and their impact on EU elections add an extra element of uncertainty on the future direction that some key policies, including climate and energy, might take.

A long policy debate on the future has just started: stay tuned and make yourself heard!

Read Also: ‘Energy policy: What are the priorities for the next Commission starting in 2019?’