This year's EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) takes place at a moment of profound change. The European Commission under President Ursula von der Leyen made clear from the day we took office that the European Green Deal and the fight against climate change was the overarching political priority of our mandate. Our long-term ambition is to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050 and make Europe the first "net zero" continent. But in order to achieve that objective we have to shift gears and intensify our efforts as soon as possible.
Earlier this year, the new Climate Law was adopted and entered into force. It not only embeds our climate neutral goal into EU law, but also fixes a clear step on that path – reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030. The paradigm has thus shifted: we no longer question if we should set such a bold target, but consider how we can best achieve it.
To that end, on 14 July, the European Commission presented more than a dozen concrete legislative proposals to deliver on the European Green Deal and translate our climate goals into action. The main difference between this new approach and the climate policy of yesterday is not just the higher ambition, but its broader scope. We are not only focusing on the energy sector but on our economy as a whole – from transport to taxes, from buildings to forests. The package is as comprehensive as it is interconnected.
Getting to net zero is only feasible through a fundamental transformation of our entire society, so we must use all the tools at our disposal and make sure they complement and reinforce one another. We have put a price on carbon emissions and we propose to extend this proven system to new sectors that are lagging behind, such as aviation, shipping, road transport and buildings. We will set new and higher targets to push for change – be it in agriculture or industry. And we will make it easier to be green and less rewarding to use fossil fuels. There will also be a carbon border adjustment mechanism to avoid a situation where manufacturers in other parts of the world benefit from the fact that their climate standards are considerably lower than in the EU.
While this is a multi-faceted package of proposals covering many policy areas, energy remains at the heart of our climate ambition. Three-quarters of EU's GHG emissions come from producing and using energy, so without a green energy transition, there will be no 'net zero'. Two central elements of the package delivering on the European Green Deal are revisions to the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive. Clearly, the combination of reducing our overall energy consumption by doing things in the most efficient way and ramping up our production and use of renewable energy will be crucial to achieving a 55% cut in emissions by the end of this decade. These proposals have now passed to the EU co-legislators – Member State ministers of energy in the Council and Members in the European Parliament – and will dominate our energy policy debates for the next couple of years.
Raising the renewables target to 40% by 2030
For the Renewable Energy Directive, the Commission proposal raises the ambition of the existing legislation and seeks to introduce new measures to complement the existing building blocks already established by the 2009 and 2018 directives, building on some of the concepts outlined in the energy system integration and hydrogen strategies, both published in 2020.
This headline change is to raise the overall renewables target for 2030 (from 32% to 40%), but with strengthened measures for transport or heating and cooling, where progress has been slower than expected. The Commission is also aiming at a more energy efficient and circular energy system. One that facilitates renewables-based electrification, and promotes the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen, in sectors where electrification is not yet a feasible option, such as transport.
Energy Efficiency and the need for a just transition
In the energy efficiency proposal, the Commission is also looking to raise our ambition – going 9% further than Member States had previously pledged. (This is the equivalent of a 39% and 36% reduction in primary and final energy consumption relative to the baseline forecasts.) EU countries must also achieve new annual savings of 1.5% of final energy consumption from 2024 to 2030, up from the current level of 0.8%. This is an important instrument to drive energy savings in end-use sectors such as buildings, industry and transport.
The proposal also puts stronger focus on alleviating energy poverty and empowering consumers, through strengthened requirements on awareness raising and information provision. We are looking to introduce an obligation for EU countries to implement energy efficiency improvement measures as a priority among vulnerable consumers in order to alleviate energy poverty. This is all part of a consistent Commission drive to ensure that the clean energy transition leaves no-one behind – echoed by the additional EU spending dedicated to the Just Transition Fund. In this context, revenues from the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) extension to buildings and transport will be used through the newly established Social Climate Fund to address possible negative distributional effects.
Our work here is far from over. A second wave of proposals will be tabled before the end of the year – looking to legislate on decarbonising the gas sector and establishing a hydrogen market, as well as revising the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and setting new rules for reducing methane emissions.
In order for these policies to deliver the necessary results, we need all sides to buy in to the package – legislators, stakeholders, citizens. In this sense, this year's EUSEW provides an excellent opportunity to discuss, understand and embrace the policy aims we have proposed.