A serious step backward

The EU’s refusal to set concrete objectives undermines the struggle against climate change

The European Union had so far stood firm, come what may, in its commitment to the struggle against climate change. In line with this commitment, in 2007 it had set its famous 20-20-20 triad of objectives: a 20-percent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases; at least 20 percent of energy to proceed from renewable sources; and 20-percent savings in energy consumption, all by the year 2020. At six years from the date set, these objectives are very near fulfillment. By 2012 the EU had reduced emissions by 18 percent; renewables contributed 14.4 percent of consumed energy; and the savings objective also seemed feasible. These figures show that in the struggle against climate change, the determining factor is political will, and that the most effective tool is to set concrete objectives and deadlines.

In spite of this substantial success, when it comes to setting objectives for the next 15 years, the EU has so far declined to set concrete objectives in two of the three major lines of action that are now considered priorities. The only ambit in which a specific objective has been established for the year 2030 is that of greenhouse-gas emissions, where a goal has been set of a 35- to 40-percent reduction with respect to 1990. Here we are looking at a percentage that is considerable, though well below the 55-percent decrease demanded by environmental groups, and easily attainable if we keep in mind that, even without implementing new measures, those put into place so far already ensure a 32-percent reduction by that date.

What is especially concerning is the lack of specific objectives for renewable energies

What is especially concerning is the lack of specific objectives for renewable energies. This decision, or the absence thereof, can only favor nuclear energy, which will have to be reinforced if the emission-reduction objectives agreed upon are to be achieved. In this area it has been the pressure of France, the leading nuclear energy producer in Europe, and of the United Kingdom, which is planning to build more nuclear plants, that has finally prevailed, contrary to the view of Germany, which is still proceeding with its program to phase out the use of fission energy.

The plan must still pass the filter of the summit of heads of state in March, so that the EU still has time to revise a plan that, though it may bring certain competitive advantages in the very short term, may entail grave long-term disadvantages in the face of the challenges of climate change. And this plan based on indecision also constitutes a political error. To reduce the scale of its ambition weakens the EU in one of the few areas in which it still has a credible capacity for leadership.