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New targets give clarity to environmental performance

The new era for European energy policy starts here. The European Union has announced its latest set of targets for climate and energy, going up to 2030: a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions based on 1990 levels; a 27 per cent increase in the proportion of energy generated by renewable resources (which will be binding); a non-binding target of 25 per cent increase in energy efficiency; and what sounds like a comprehensive reform of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

This is a commission announcement, so it’s not part of EU law yet: it can still be altered by the Council of Ministers, and it’s probably fair to say that there will be some pressure to water some aspects of it down. The binding nature of the renewables target is a bit of a surprise, for a start; that could go after further discussion.


Marine energy could benefit from new targets for emissions

It also seems that the renewables target is non-binding on nation states, which must surely make it difficult to enforce. Renewables resources vary dramatically across Europe, and if one state finds it hard to raise its renewables profile, it’s surely very difficult for the region as a whole to meet a target.

As for what effect the new targets will have on industry; well, much will depend on how the reform of ETS works out. A higher carbon price, combined with generous strike prices for renewables, could be extremely good news for renewables development, which will make many in the marine sector happy.

And it’s certainly good news for the nuclear sector. A big cut in greenhouse gases (although it’s nowhere near as deep as some wanted — former Engineer interviewee Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre at Manchester University wanted 80 per cent) along with a non-binding target for renewables means that nuclear — classed as low-carbon, but not renewable — is going to be a strongly-favoured option. It might even accelerate development of newer nuclear technologies such as breeder reactors, which have potential to close the fuel cycle and edge nuclear towards renewable status.

We’re still waiting for the UK government reaction to the new targets: energy minister Ed Davey is speaking on the subject this afternoon, which is too late to be incorporated in this comment.

What’s truly significant is Commission president Jose Manuel Barosso’s comment that ‘we are beyond the debate where you either have to be green or a defender of industry; they can go perfectly together.’ This isn’t a point of view which is well established in the UK, particularly not in the Treasury: hence George Osborne’s rowing back on the Conservatives’ election promise to be the ‘Greenest government ever’. And convincing industry to invest in environmental technologies continues to be difficult. Promoting the energy efficiency angle — spending money to save money in the longer term — is surely still the best strategy.

So we’ll have to wait and see what effect this will have. More certainty is always a good thing where investment is concerned; and the UK continues to have, by virtue of its geography, one of the strongest potentials for renewables in Europe. And with the changing tide on nuclear and the will to strengthen British research in this sector, it could herald the start of an exciting new chapter in energy technology development.

Readers' comments (3)

  • If the object of the exercise is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide then all technologies that can do this should be subsidised by exactly the same amount per tonne of carbon dioxide that they eliminate.

    If this is done, nuclear power will be in the first place because it is the cleanest, most environmentally friendly and safest of all major forms of power generation.

    But if we look at the fact that the world has not warmed for the past 17 years even though carbon dioxide concentrations have steadily increased, and the fact that even the IPCC admits that there are enormous uncertainties in the science that claims to link carbon dioxide to global warming, the only reasonable conclusion is that carbon dioxide's effect on the climate is very small indeed and does not impose any risk on the world.

    The targets are a nonsense.

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  • To the small, but persistent global warming denialists posting the same false arguments on the topic of climate change mitigation through policy and technology, I would recommend not to bother. Here is why:

    Nathan, please elaborate on the benefits of nuclear energy to UK, EU or the world overall. Between the high cost of failures (I cannot come up with a Fukushima equivalent of any of the renewable energy technologies) and the relative poor performance on LCA GHG emissions I do not find the arguments for investing in nuclear persuasive.

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  • I have to agree Silvia. It beggars belief that anyone would publish the fact that they've been fooled by such disinformation.

    But I feel that Germany's position on nuclear power is also highly irrational.

    There would be a role for nuclear, were it not for the prevailing dogma which insists it must be part of a 'market-led' solution. The political conflict between seriously misguided neoliberal factions, such as the UK's CfD regime and the EU's state aid rules, makes a nonsense of that discredited theory.

    I think targets are a nonsense too, and the failed ETS should be scrapped in favour of focussed carbon taxes. That money should be ring-fenced for R&D, demonstration and deployment. Currently, state aid rules place ridiculous restrictions on member states' freedom to promote new technologies. The European Commission was advised years ago that these crazy regulations should NOT be applied to new 'green' technologies. (They never applied to nuclear RDD&D)

    There are no 'market-led' or 'business-led' solutions, but studies of future grid operations take pride in the fact that their analysis is based on a 'market agnostic' premise. Consequently, GIGO.

    Equally damaging is the perception that innovation must be 'business-led'. Disruptive technology is anathema for incumbent industries.

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