European Commission’s latest proposals for improving energy efficiency policies seems to be incurring the ire of the departing Brits

Fourteen months ago, there was global agreement to raise the ambition of our energy and climate policies in order to significantly reduce the impact of climate change. Improved energy efficiency was seen as a major element in meeting those goals. That was before Britain voted to leave the European Union. Now, Andrew Warren, Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, and a regular contributor to EiD, assesses how the UK will be approaching the upcoming negotiations for approving the clean energy package published last November. Do you have any views on this?

 

If the UK is leaving the EU, can it really work to weaken EU energy efficiency rules?

Andrew Warren argues the UK should maintain just a “watching brief’ during important Brussels negotiations on the next wave of energy efficiency goals

Does Brexit really mean Brexit? If so, it isn’t deterring two UK government departments from deliberately seeking to water down the proposed strengthening of two European directives. Both are officially designed to promote “the most cost-effective ways to support transition to a low carbon economy”.

Last December the European Commission published a new 1,000-page strategy, intended to deliver “A Clean Energy Package for Europeans”. Launching it, Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete began by deliberately insisting: “Let me start with energy efficiency first.”

Although six of the eight dossiers in the package cover energy production, Canete’s declared “priority” has been taken up by the European Council, representing national governments. Malta, which assumed the Council of Ministers’ six month presidency last month, is fast-tracking the Commission’s proposals to toughen two existing directives concerning energy saving.

These are the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), and the Energy Efficiency Directive. It will also expedite priorities on the eco-design of energy using products, both reviewing existing standards and introducing new products within the A to G measurements.

Canete emphasises: “I am particularly proud that we are proposing a binding 30 per cent energy efficiency target for 2030, up from the current indicative target of at least 27 per cent.”

It is this declaration that, more than anything else, seems to be incurring the ire of the departing Brits. Three years ago, the Cameron Government fought a strong rearguard action to block both any energy saving target higher than a 27 per cent improvement (from a 2005 baseline), and to ensure it was neither legally binding nor required any firm action from individual governments.

Consequently the European Commission has been monitoring the absence of progress. It already estimates that “current national and EU energy efficiency frameworks will lead to a reduction of approximately 23 per cent in primary energy consumption by 2030” – a very substantial shortfall even on that modest 27 per cent target.

Many other governments – including Germany, Denmark and France – have always sought a more ambitious and legally enforceable target, including designated national contributions towards the total. Whilst the UK government has formally told the House Commons EU Scrutiny Committee that it intends to be “fully involved” with negotiations, those in the other 27 member countries are confident that – once having begun the Brexit process this March – its ability to influence others to follow its more timid approach will be very limited.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament had voted to instruct the Commission to examine the likely impact of a 40 per cent reduction target between 1995 and 2030. Significantly the EC’s formal impact assessment has demonstrated clearly that in terms of making an impact a 40 per cent reduction target would be significantly more effective.

The Brussels-based Coalition for Energy Savings said: “Every additional one per cent of energy savings matters. Each could be taking seven million people out of fuel poverty, securing 500,000 local jobs, avoiding 37 million tons of CO2, and cutting EU gas imports by 2.6 per cent.” Even so, Canete is limiting his objective to the more modest 30 per cent figure.

The UK’s EU scrutiny committee, chaired by the veteran anti-European Conservative MP Bill Cash, is nonetheless apoplectic. It is thundering that “the nature of these targets will have a substantive impact on the UK” and that (inevitably) “the Commission may have underestimated the costs to business of the proposed changes”.

But perhaps recognising the weakness of the UK’s position, the committee adds “we would also welcome any early indication as to whether the government’s concerns might be shared by others”.

The reason why these new texts are pertinent to the UK is that, on the present timetable, they are scheduled to be agreed by the end of 2017. Indeed the Maltese Presidency currently intends to gain agreement within the council of energy ministers meeting in Valetta due on June 26. Even if that proves too optimistic, so long as full agreement is achieved at least 12 months before Brexit becomes a reality – probably April 2019 – it will be the contents of the new directives that will be transferred over into UK law.

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that it will then be up to her government to decide which parts of which of the transferred “acquis” – the portfolio word for all European requirements – will be retained.

The European Commission has concluded: “The cheapest energy, the cleanest energy, the most secure energy is the energy that is not used at all. Energy efficiency needs to be considered as a source of energy in its own right.

“It is one of the most cost effective ways to support the transition to a low carbon economy and to create growth, employment and investment opportunities.”

The UK has unilaterally decided to divorce its future from the rest of Europe – both the EU and European Economic Area. Nobody outside the UK is forcing it to do so.

Last week’s Brexit White Paper is unequivocal: “The government is committed to ensuring we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will use the Great Repeal Bill to bring the current framework of environmental regulation into UK and devolved law. The UK’s climate action will continue to be underpinned by our climate targets as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and through our system of five-yearly carbon budgets, which in turn support our international work to drive climate ambition.”

Seeking so overtly to reduce the ambition of the remaining 27 Member States to ensure that such cost-effective options are legally adopted, would directly transgress that commitment. The UK should have the modesty to adopt a modest “watching brief” during these negotiations.

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