The European Commission has proposed revisions to the EU’s commitments to emissions reduction targets citing the high cost of fossil fuel alternatives at a time of economic uncertainty. The new EC proposal involves moving from binding targets for individual countries to an all-Europe standard that would grow from a 20 percent reduction by 2020 to a 40 percent reduction by 2030.
There’s clearly a lot of pressure behind the scenes by people worried about the economy, governments who fear they will not be able to achieve their targets, and the oil and gas industries, who have vested interests in maintaining their hegemony as long as they can.
The move to end the binding targets that were set, country by country, in exchange for a Europe-wide goal raises an important question. How are they going to enforce it? If 2030 comes and all of Europe falls short, who are they going to penalize and how are they going assess the penalty? The implementation of this seems quite vague.
The new proposed target of 40 percent reduction sounds good, after all, it’s double the 20 percent goal by 2020, which they’re well positioned to meet—and 40 percent reduction is pretty aggressive compared to what we’re doing in the U.S. But if you look at what Europe has already accomplished, they’re already on track to meet that. There’s no acceleration in the rate of reduction. The message is, just stay the course and by 2030, with continuing reductions, we should hit 40 percent. The only caveat there is that the current trend is based on the fact that Europe's economy is pretty slow right now. Should the economy pick up, it’s going to be more of a challenge to hit that target.
That concern is shared by Gunther Oettinger, the EU's Energy Commissioner. Oettinger has said that the easy reductions came first, and that additional reductions will be increasingly difficult. He also said that Europe's carbon contribution, which is 10.5% of the world total today, would drop to 4.5% if the goal is met, too small to really make a difference.
Others would argue that all entities have a moral obligation to do everything they can. That's the position taken by Brook Riley, who is the Friends of the Earth chairman in the region. Riley has said that Jose Manuel Baroso, president of the European Commission, who announced the proposal, is subscribing to the “old think” industry spin that there has to be a tradeoff between climate action and economic recovery. That’s based on an outdated model.
I personally agree with Riley. There’s a mind set that says, “this is the way our economy must operate,” a premise based on centralized energy sources managed by big companies. First of all, it’s shortsighted—many people have weighed in to say we can absolutely improve the economy while we switch to a more sustainable energy policy. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute is one of the more notable voices. His two books on the subject, WinningThe Oil Endgame and ReInventing Fire lay out the path forward. These books describe how we can move to an 80 percent renewable-based economy by 2050, at a profit, while saving $5 trillion in the process. The problem is, you have to really look outside the box, something that Lovins does particularly well.