EU climate chief opens discussion about extending the targets and expresses concern at gas industry’s lobbying
This is the first time the European commission has raised the issue of mandatory targets beyond 2020, when the current commitment – to generate 20% of energy from renewable sources – expires.
In its attempts to push this line, the gas industry has held a series of high-level meetings with senior figures in the European commission and the European parliament, as well as with the governments of member states.
Connie Hedegaard, the climate change commissioner in Brussels, is concerned at the lobbying, and is determined to maintain Europe’s lead in developing renewable energy and clean technology. “We should be looking to avoid a lock-in to fossil fuels,” she said. “We should be discussing a renewable energy target for 2030. We need to have ambitious targets. It would be one way to send a long-term price signal for renewable energy – that renewable energy is not just going to stop growing after 2020.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Hedegaard declined to put a clear figure on what the renewable energy target should be beyond 2020. But others have suggested that it could be cost-effective to opt for a target of 40% by 2030.
The push to extend the target is likely to be resisted by some member states who fought hard against the 2020 targets when they were unveiled in early 2007. Poland is known to be concerned that its heavy reliance on coal should not attract penalties, and Italy has a history of opposing climate targets.An official in the department of Günther Oettinger, the EU commissioner for energy, said no targets were yet needed beyond 2020. He is also against raising the current emissions-cutting target from 20% by 2020 to 30%, as some member states – including the UK, France and Germany – have proposed.
A spokesman for José Manuel Barroso said the European commission president was following the arguments closely, but had no view on the matter of new targets.
In its “Roadmap to 2050“, the commission estimated that the share of low-carbon technologies – comprising renewables, nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage – in the electricity mix would have to rise to 75% or 80% by 2030.
The gas industry’s lobbying push has been inspired by the rapid expansion of shale gas, a controversial form of the fuel that is extracted from dense shale rock. Industry estimates suggest there may be enough of this and other so-called “unconventional” forms of gas, which are newly accessible because of advances in a technique known as hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – to power the globe for two centuries.
Lobbyists have circulated a report by the European Gas Advocacy Forum, co-authored by the consultancy McKinsey, that appears to show Europe could meet its 2050 greenhouse gas targets and save €900bn by opting for gas rather than renewable energy generation.
However, the assertions of the gas industry are now in doubt. The EGAF report was adapted from a previous study that contradicts this claim, concluding that Europe should opt for more renewable power in order to meet its emissions targets and improve its energy security. The EGAF report has now been disowned by the original study’s co-authors, the European Climate Foundation.
A separate study from Cornell University also found that, because of the difficulties involved in its production, using shale gas for electricity generation produces as much carbon dioxide as coal, if not more.