EU needs to take bolder steps on climate change in the home and on the roads if it is to meet the ambitious Paris targets

The landmark Paris Agreement of December 2015 saw all parties finally committed to deliver on reducing green house gases (GHG).

However, it is often forgotten that there is a considerable gap between the desired maximum climate increase of 1.5C° and the expected effect of the 185 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that, if realised, will only cap global warming at 2.7C°. Bridging this ‘emissions gap’ will obviously require extra efforts.

The EU was a key progressive player at Paris and one would expect that curbing GHG emissions toward this more ambitious target should be the first priority now. However, this appears not to be the case.

Signals from the Environment Council and the Commission (EC) indicate that the EU pledge on a 2C° maximum climate change is considered a good start – for possible review in 2023. So, if MEPs and Council finally agree with the EC proposals, then the target to achieve in 2030 an overall 40% reduction in GHG compared to 1990 will indeed be put into effect by two legal acts that come into force in 2020:

  • 43 % reduction of the ETS sector compared to 2005
  • 30 % reduction of non-ETS sector (including land use and forestry) compared to 2005.

Carbon leakage discussions will hinder any agreement on the ETS sector, which covers 45 % of the GHG emissions. However, once this issue has been solved, the resulting GHG reduction is theoretically guaranteed, as this will be under direct control by the EU.

However, the non-ETS sector is a completely different issue. First, a tough struggle can be expected over the distribution of the 30 % reduction as national targets. But also the realisation of these targets will involve measures that are much closer to voters and therefore disliked by politicians whose horizon goes not much further than the next elections or, even worse, the next opinion poll.

Moreover, if the ETS agreement indeed appears to be cast in stone until 2030, it will be the non-ETS sector that has to deliver in 2023 all those extra efforts towards the targets.

The two sectors that must contribute most to this non-ETS reduction target are residential and transport.

In the residential sector binding measures should be imposed on insulation of houses and energy efficiency of products. These would finally also save money for owners/consumers and it looks like an obvious win-win issue that’s easy to sell to consumers.

However, the reality is different: Progress in implementing the Building Directives is appalling.  Opposition from home-owner organisations led to very weak application of the first directive of 2002, because many governments did not dare to force owners to meet the initial costs. This overall failure was disguised by making a new “improved” building directive in 2010. The fact that these (minor) “improvements” were then presented as a complete recast meant that several infringement procedures against Member States were dropped and renewed later for the new Directive, giving them an extra delay of five to six years.

And where are we now? The Commission services have still have to start new procedures for the correct application of this 2010 Directive but are also preparing a third version of it!!

Also on the Eco design Directive the EC seems to be afraid of upsetting MS politicians. Eco design standards are effective but sometimes run up against the lifestyle of citizens, provoking Eurosceptic stories in the tabloids.

Boris Johnson last year scored points when he ridiculed the proposed standards for maximum power for vacuum cleaners. Probably he did not know that such an action would save long term an estimated 17TWh per year in the EU (equivalent to the production of at least 1,500 offshore windmills).

But the EC is now so nervous about upsetting public opinion before the Brexit vote that in a in recent internal note it has been made compulsory to subject proposals for eco design standards on publicly sensitive issues such as light bulbs to an extra scrutiny procedure.

Climate is important, but apparently not as much as current public opinion!!

The transport sector will be just as difficult. The Commission has announced a communication on decarbonisation of transport. It concerns mainly land transport and is likely to propose as sole legal measure the setting of stricter emissions standards for cars and vans and the review of the (infamous) test cycles.

Such a measure will certainly be easy to sell to the public after “Dieselgate”.

Promoting modal shift by rigorous road pricing for cars would be effective, but this is a measure that is certainly not good for a politician seeking re-election. I predict not much progress at EU level in this behavioural field.

Alternative fuels were in fact a success story as regards the first generation of biofuels. Now, after a heavy ILUC discussion, these biofuels have a bad name and the production of second generation biofuels has considerable less synergy with agricultural interests. A binding target is needed for this category.

Electrification of transport is indeed our hope for the future, but it would be a great push if more local areas were reserved for electric vehicles. The EU should at least set a clear legal framework for such local measures.

Will this all be enough to achieve in the non-ETS sector a 30 % GHG reduction in 2030, or even more if we want to contribute to a lower temperature change?

Maybe, but I doubt if it all will happen and, at the very least, it should anyhow be presented a bit more forcefully than until now, with planned advanced action in place. The situation is still urgent and too much complacency after Paris would be sorely regretted by the next generation.

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