The European Green Deal: a tipping point for good

by Harry Verhaar, EU-ASE Bord Chair and Head of Public & Government Affairs at Signify

It’s been a grave winter for the health of our planet. In Madrid, urgent climate talks dissolved into a disappointing stalemate. The public is informed and engaged in a new and promising way, but is also more divided. We are close to a tipping point: a point at which the rate of change increases dramatically, and possibly irreversibly towards a climate catastrophe.

When we talk about the concept of tipping points, we recognize that change isn’t linear – it’s exponential. We see examples of this all too frequently. As the planet warms, Arctic permafrost thaws, releasing methane and carbon dioxide that further accelerates the pace of change. And as the Earth loses more and more of its white, reflective surfaces, the planet more readily absorbs heat. We’re close to some of nature’s tipping points. Reaching these would have disastrous implications for our planet and our way of life.

Man on the moon moment

But in Europe, a change is coming that could be crucial to containing our carbon emissions and limiting the effects of climate change. On December 11, 2019, the European Commission announced the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives aimed at making this continent carbon neutral by 2050. The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, called it Europe’s “man on the moon moment.”

The world’s track record with climate regulation has been patchy at best. So, what’s different about the European Green Deal? For me, it marks a fundamental change in the way environmental and sustainability regulation is developed. Historically, change that is focused upon carbon emissions reduction or environmental protection has been weighed in terms of expense: what must we sacrifice to achieve these targets? This tends to shut down public and political discussion, and in my view, has critically undersold the opportunities that sustainable practices bring to the table.

Growth strategy

The Green Deal is not about penalizing businesses and people for doing things in a less sustainable way. It’s a growth strategy, integrated into every public policy plan, that hardwires a preference for sustainable initiatives into every aspect of Europe’s socioeconomic development.

This is an important distinction. When you look more deeply at sustainable solutions, you discover that they are not at odds with economic progress. They are, in fact, better in every way. Take LED lighting. It’s more resource-efficient. Less burdensome on the environment. It costs less over a lifetime. And it is better for people, helping to improve quality of life. It can reduce road traffic accidents, deter crime, make you more productive, contribute to you breathing cleaner air. Who would say no to that?

We’ve said before that as we move into this all-determining decade of climate action, the time for talk is over. The European Green Deal presents a clear and non-negotiable ambition: to be climate-neutral by 2050 at the latest. To get there, we need intermediate milestones too, and that means a cut in emissions of more than half by 2030. This is in line with the recommendation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which advised a reduction of at least 55% by 2030.

 

“A climate neutral goal without action is dreaming.
Climate Action without a clear goal is sleepwalking.”

 

To have our “man on the moon moment”, we need to walk the talk. At Signify, we have our own carbon commitment, to be carbon neutral by the end of this year.

We also call upon others to adopt programs like the Climate Group’s RE100 commitment to renewable energy, to participate in renovation programs that transform existing buildings into net zero carbon buildings, and to adopt a 100% electric vehicle goal for the corporate or the municipal car fleet, because doing these things brings with it progress. It demystifies climate action, it turns ambition into concrete steps, and it demonstrates the economic potential of a new and better way for our society to function.

Progress is not linear

Programs that start with only a few participants have the power to make a difference. We know that the detrimental effects of climate change on our planet are not linear, but the same can be said of our progress. History has shown that many transitions accelerate after reaching a certain momentum. We see this in the lighting sector. At the end of 2006, incandescent light bulbs were still two thirds of our sales volume. In our last quarter, more than 80% of our revenue came from sustainable products, systems and services. The world has more people, bigger urban populations, and more light points than ever before, yet the proportion of global electricity consumption from lighting falls each year, from 19% in 2006, to 13% in 2018, and we expect it to fall further to 8% by 2030.

What happened? LED reached a tipping point. This successful decoupling of electricity consumption from use of light shows that choosing for sustainability does not need to come at a cost. This is just one example of such a decoupling – there can be many more. If we can achieve energy savings on such a scale across buildings, transportation, industry, our targets will be easily met.

To my mind, the European Green Deal can be our tipping point for good. With its broad scope, it reaches into the areas where we can have the most significant impact, and within these, create further tipping points for good. It can change the way we approach regulation. It can prove to the world that sustainability and economic growth need not be at odds. And it can be a time we look back on as the moment when we joined together to divert our path to a better and more sustainable trajectory.

 

European climate law must not be an empty shell

by Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy

This op-ed was published on Euractiv


European climate law risks being just an empty shell if it does not show the choices needed to reach climate neutrality. Furthermore, this would weaken the whole Green Deal process and diminish its credibility, writes Monica Frassoni.

A too short and modest proposal would risk hijacking the EU transition to climate neutrality. For climate law to live up to the expectations raised by the European Green Deal, the Commission must clearly indicate what is necessary to achieve a climate-neutral EU by 2050: this means giving priority to energy efficiency and renewables.

At the beginning of March, the European Commission is expected to publish its proposal for a European climate law that will aim to provide a clear trajectory to climate neutrality, certainty for investors and policymakers and transparency to ensure proper governance and monitoring of progress.

What looks to be the final output of the proposal, which is likely to be revealed by the EU executive next week, is, however, very disappointing both in terms of clarity and ambition.

We agree with the Commission that the climate law should be as straightforward as possible.

But this does not mean omitting essential elements, like the inclusion of intermediate milestones for 2030 and 2040, entailing the commitment to an increased and mandatory EE and RES targets; integrating the energy efficiency first principle and applying it to all energy planning and investments; promoting policy coherence across the board, including the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

Indeed, the Commission should orientate the EU’s action towards what is the fastest and most cost-effective way to reduce emissions by putting the Energy Efficiency First principle (EE1st) at the core of the climate law.

If we want to embrace the 100% renewables-based energy system that a successful and just transition entails, we need to cut our energy demand by half by 2050 in comparison to 2005.

This choice will create new opportunities and jobs; it will facilitate the reduction of EU dependence on imports of crude oil and natural gas and thus increase our energy security.

Energy efficiency includes multiple benefits, which, combined with an increased use of renewables, simultaneously address the major societal, economic and environmental challenges facing the EU energy system today.

Moreover, the climate law should set an intermediate GHG emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030. This is in line with recent studies suggesting a 55% or higher target for 2030 is both necessary to remain in line with the 2050 climate neutrality goal and feasible from a technical and economic point of view.

The increased 55% reduction target is also supported by a clear majority of members of the European Parliament.

It is extremely important that European Commission signals to businesses and society at large that it is taking the right measures at the right time to tackle the climate challenges and ensures the competitiveness and sustainability of our economic and social systems.

This would give us, businesses, and other economic players a clear direction to act and to invest in the EU.

The European Green Deal is a particularly positive beginning for the new European Commission, which pledges to address the climate crisis and, by doing so, shapes the future of Europe’s economy and society and leads by example.

Exactly for these reasons, the climate law proposal should meet that same level of ambition. Having a text which looks like an empty shell would weaken the whole Green Deal process and diminish its credibility and transformational impetus. We cannot afford this.

The biggest innovation in energy is efficiency

By Monica Frassoni, President, European Alliance to Save Energy
Summer 2019

Article published in European Energy Innovation magazine


Our focus on measuring GDP growth has trapped us in a linear view of society. Long term quality of life needs to become the most important measure of global success. With greenhouse-gas emissions increasingly a constraint on current and future improvements in prosperity, we need to become much smarter and more resource efficient.

An energy efficient Europe will foster competitiveness and growth through innovation but also large scale implementation of existing technologies in a range of sectors, each of these contributing to the prosperity, health and wellbeing of Europe’s citizens.

Energy efficiency improvements across all sectors are key to arriving at a climate neutral world by 2050.

The last decade saw an unprecedented increase in awareness of the multiple benefits of energy efficiency. As a result of this, in November 2016 the European Commission proposed making energy efficiency central to a package of legislation known as Clean Energy for All Europeans. Between 2018 and 2019, several pieces of legislation aiming at improving energy efficiency were adopted: the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), the Governance of the Energy Union Regulation, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and the Internal Market for Electricity Directive and Regulation.

 

Over the next few years national governments, the Commission, local authorities, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders will have to work together to fully implement these new laws.

The many benefits of energy efficiency in a climate neutral world
Energy savings are not only crucial for the transition to a decarbonised economy. They also offer many long-term benefits to offset costs associated with efficiency improvement. Investing in energy efficiency simply makes economic sense.

On average, every €1 invested in energy efficiency saves €3, over the lifespan of a technology. This means that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to tackle climate change.

The multiple benefits of energy efficiency include economic growth, increased competitiveness, job creation, healthier population and ecosystems, clean air and water, alleviation of energy poverty, and energy security. These benefits, combined with an increased use of renewables, simultaneously address the major societal, economic and environmental challenges facing the EU today.

Energy efficiency and the 1.5°C goal
Climate change is defining our era. If we do not take bold action, we risk missing the time where we can avoid the disastrous consequences of climate change, for people and for the natural systems that support us all. We are at a defining moment.

Energy efficiency is key to achieving the goals set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change and related greenhouse-gas emission reductions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 76% of the European greenhouse gas emission reductions required to keep temperature increases below 1.5°C must come from energy efficiency.

In other words, without implementing bold energy efficiency policies, it will be impossible to reach Europe’s international commitments, maintain Europe’s global climate leadership, and prove the business case for climate change mitigation.

In its Communication “A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy”, the European Commission said that energy efficiency measures should play a central role in reaching net zero GHG emissions by 2050, reducing energy consumption by as much as half compared to 2005. In order to do so, Energy Efficiency First has to be used across a fast-changing energy system, as the best way to decarbonise our economies.

Europe’s energy landscape is indeed going through profound changes. These are, driven by digitalisation, an increasing share of renewable energy, distributed generation, citizens’ engagement (the creation of ‘prosumers’), electrification, storage, and market integration on both national and European level.

During the next political cycle we have to build a broad alliance of progressive forces, working together to decarbonise society in the interest of citizens and the economy. We have to embrace the digital revolution to deliver energy at the right time, in the right place and at the lowest cost. This will enable consumers to optimise and monetise their energy resources on a peer-to-peer marketplace. We have to unlock the potential for energy savings and carbon-footprint reduction that lies in the EU buildings stock.

We have to promote energy efficiency and renewables working together to provide over 90% of the energy related CO2 emission reductions needed under the Paris Agreement. And we have to unleash energy efficiency improvements in high potential sectors, including through legislative incentives for saving water and promote the water energy nexus across policies.

We need to act now. People, governments and businesses must work together to realise the full potential of energy savings across all industrial sectors, regions and cities. This will allow us to reap the social, economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency.

Shaping Europe’s energy future: energy efficiency in the heating sector

Kamila Waciega, Director, Energy, Public Affairs Department, Veolia

As the European Union is currently discussing its path towards decarbonisation, the essential role of boosting energy efficiency to achieve potential goals for carbon and climate neutrality is unequivocal. In the recently published long-term decarbonisation strategy – a ‘A Clean Planet for All’ – energy efficiency is featured prominently in all eight scenarios outlined by the EU executive, and is specified as the first of seven building blocks identified in the communication. Energy efficiency measures are to play a central role in reaching net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, halving energy consumption compared to 2005, in all relevant sectors, in particular in buildings, industry and transport.

Yet, we need a more specific pathway for addressing a sector that currently represents 50% of the final energy consumption – the heating sector. Given its weight in the overall energy mix, and consequently, its tremendous potential for decarbonisation, the heating sector should be the one where energy efficiency efforts are deployed first and foremost. It means not only addressing decreased final energy demand (through an accelerated and thorough renovation of the existing building stocks and the construction of new facilities following the principles of near zero energy buildings) but also and above all, searching for ways to reduce primary energy consumption on the supply side.

Maximising the deployment of renewable energies will imply a continuous fossil fuels and will necessarily contribute towards further electrification across Europe. The former however, might bring challenges as regards the investment costs linked to the increased transmissions capacities, and even more importantly, to proven and flexible infrastructures such as high efficiency district heating networks.

While the sirens of radical modernity are always enticing, in many European countries, district energy enables the selection of an optimal energy mix for a given territory, integrating local renewable energy sources such as biomass, geothermal energy and intermittent renewables. They are also the way to exploit the excess heat that can be found locally – in industrial units, data centres, sewage systems and incineration infrastructures. According to Heat Roadmap Europe, excess heat recovery from industry and heat from power production could cover at least 25% of the district heat production. Also, high efficiency district heating networks are often equipped with cogeneration, i.e. systems generating simultaneously electricity and heat, making possible an effective sectoral integration (especially when coupled with gas networks) and increasing overall efficiency. The role of modern district heating should be further reflected in our common vision for a climate neutral Europe 2050 as many sources of low carbon energy and efficiency potentials might not be feasible without their use.


This article is a contribution from a EUSEW Partner. All rights reserved. 

Energy policies as the bridge between “consumers” and “citizens”

Céline Carré, Head of EU Public Affairs, Saint-Gobain

The energy consumer will be a catalyst towards a decentralized and decarbonized energy system as stipulated in the European Commission’s Clean Energy for All Europeans communication. He/she will be able to change energy supplier, monitor and adapt consumption pattern, and produce energy.

But how to reconcile these opportunities with the imperative to meet our European 2050 climate goals and subsequently reduce energy demand? How to reinvent consumption in a way that values the services provided by energy, e.g. mobility, warmth, or light, instead of perpetuating a production-consumption-wastage model?

As a simple value proposition to help consumer take ownership of the transition, energy efficiency is a recipe for aligning short term actions and long-term goals, individual and collective responsibilities, and, not least, rich and poor.

Energy efficiency reduces our import dependency and provides continuous growth and jobs impetus. It helps consumers reduce their bills and quit energy poverty, and it makes our lives healthier. Without it, global energy demand today would be fifty percent higher for buildings only, and the prospect of a net zero carbon society by 2050 would be a foolish dream since electricity demand is set to double in sectors like housing and transport.

The question is how to ensure that energy efficiency plays the role it deserves for consumers to benefit from the transition. The following five guiding concepts suggest ways to overcome the risks of inconsistent signals to consumers.

Align vision and action – Giving visibility regarding what each sector should deliver for the transition is needed for consumers to take the right decisions.

Build lasting support – Eurobarometer polls show that Europeans expect more action at EU level to tackle environmental issues. Political leaders should not wait to leverage this deeper climate awareness into more concrete forms of engagement.

Practice inclusiveness – The renewed support for action is an invitation to put every consumer at the center of the game. Not every home owner can afford an nZEB renovation, and those who cannot need support. But let’s not forget to design adequate policy mixes for all those ready to jump on the renovation train.

Educate – Policy-makers can explain better the complementarity of solutions, concepts such as “efficiency first”, and the cost of non-action. In the same way than a healthy diet does not simply consist in adding some vegetables twice a week, and requires eliminating junk food, a healthy energy system starts with eliminating wastage.

Champion frontrunners: The beauty of the energy transition is that it starts very close to us, e.g. in buildings, with better thermal comfort, light, or acoustic conditions, and air quality. There is room for empowering early movers who can share convincing success stories.

We are in a long journey with no secret short-cuts or exit buttons, but where energy efficiency can deliver the essential benefits that underpin societal buy-in towards our 2050 goals. To get there, our leaders need to be bold, grasp the renewed momentum, practice joined-up thinking and place citizens’ aspirations at the core of their policies.


This article is a contribution from a EUSEW Partner. All rights reserved.