EU’s climate action does not need fossil distractions

Climate is high on the agenda of this week’s meeting with European Union heads of states and governments. What is not really certain is if the Council will manage to keep a united and determined front ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.

by Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE)

The problem the EU faces, as most other developed economies, is that behind climate ambitions and political declarations, the numbers do not add up. Too much time and resources are lost in the attempt to go around a basic reality that only a few days ago was clearly stated with no possibility of misunderstanding in the International Energy Agency’s new report, Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap: we need to stop investing in fossil fuels now.

That includes new gas pipelines, as well as grey and blue hydrogen. We must stop hiding behind the magic word ‘transition’ to prolong our still enormous dependence on natural gas, coal and oil. We need to invest and dedicate the massive amount of public resources that are available at all levels to help all of us to go green: this is no ethical issue. It is a sound economic, social and environmental choice, as it gives a real perspective to our industries and workers to stay competitive and to look to the future with trust. In other words, accelerating the green transformation is a very good news for Europe’s citizens, businesses and the environment.

In December 2020, in light of the EU’s commitment to increase its climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement, EU leaders endorsed a common target to reduce the bloc’s net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990-levels by 2030 and confirmed the goal to become the first climate neutral region by 2050. This was a substantial step up from the previous 2030 target of cutting emissions by 40% and can be considered a result of pressure from scientific communities, public opinion and media to raise awareness and the sense of urgency on the major global risk represented by climate change.

 

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New EU buildings rules are crucial to deliver on climate targets

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) must recognise that buildings are a crucial energy infrastructure for Europe, writes Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy. By being highly efficient, they can reduce energy demand but also manage, store, and generate renewable energy, she argues.

Through the agreement on the European Climate Law, the European Union and Member States have committed to become a net-zero economy by 2050 and, on the way, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Even if science says that the EU should go towards 65% GHG emissions reductions and the European Parliament had asked for 60%, the agreement is a step forward.

But can we deliver? Sure, but we need to be serious and unafraid to take the necessary step to abate emission in key sectors such as buildings.

I am not a number cruncher, but a couple of figures says it all. 75% of the current building stock is not efficient, and most of today’s buildings will still be in use in 30 years. Currently only 1% of the building stock undergoes energy renovations each year, so there is a tremendous gap between today’s reality and the EU’s climate ambitions.

In other words, we are lagging behind, and overcoming this problem implies making fundamental regulatory changes in EU energy legislation.

This is where the review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) comes in. The EPBD is, in the European Commission plans, one of the legislative pillars to address energy performance and emission of the EU building stock.

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, said in October 2020 that “at the present rate of restructuring and refurbishing our housing, we will not achieve the (EU climate) goals, we need to double that and that is what we want to do with the Renovation Strategy”, thus putting buildings at the centre of the European Green Deal.

 

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Carbon pricing is no silver bullet to decarbonise buildings across Europe

The introduction of a carbon price in the building sector will only encourage fuel switching and risks burdening those least able to pay with the cost of decarbonisation. If implemented, it should be complemented with legislation to boost energy efficiency.

by Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE)

At the end of 2020 European Union leaders agreed to increase the bloc’s emission-reduction target to at least 55% by 2030, confirming the EU’s commitment to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. If the EU wants to achieve this ambitious goal, it needs to increase its action to decarbonise one of its most energy-intensive and polluting sectors: buildings.

As an example, the CO2 emissions from space and water heating in residential buildings represent 12% of the total EU emissions, as much as all cars in Europe combined. This is the case because more than 75% of the energy produced for heating homes currently comes from fossil fuels. Switching from fossil to low or zero-carbon fuels has an enormous potential in terms of CO2 savings—an estimated 291 tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

In this context, the European Union is discussing the opportunity to establish a carbon price in the building sector. However, that is far from being simple.

Before implementing carbon pricing, lawmakers must carefully assess its different modalities (from a tax to market-based instruments, such as an emissions trading system) and impact on the building sector, in light of its specificities. These include the low-price elasticity of energy demand, which shows that energy prices are inelastic in both the short and long term: energy consumption will fall by less than 1% in response to a 1% increase in energy prices. Such low elasticity could only be overcome with a significantly higher CO2 price.

Moreover, carbon pricing for buildings may be ineffective due to the peculiar management or ownership structure of the sector. This generates split incentives which tend to blur the responsibilities and the related costs for fuel switch. Even if a fuel switch is achieved, a carbon price alone is expected to have a limited impact in terms of buildings’ energy efficiency gains, which are crucial for achieving decarbonisation quicker and with fewer resources through renovations—especially deep ones—of the existing building stock.

 

Read the full article on FORESIGHT Climate & Energy

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EU needs mandatory targets and means to save energy

The European Commission needs to bring in legally-binding energy efficiency targets to support building renovation and give member states the support they need to reach them.

by Kamila Waciega, Public Affairs Director for Energy at Veolia, and Ville Niinistö, Finnish Member of the European Parliament and coordinator for the Greens/EFA group in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

In its recent communication on the European Union climate target for 2030, the EU Commission described energy efficiency legislation and policies as essential instruments contributing to the achievement of the new 2030 greenhouse gas reduction.

However, according to the accompanying impact assessment and the evaluation of National Energy and Climate Plans, the EU will surpass its current target for renewable energy by 1.7%, while it will still fail to meet its current 2030 efficiency target by 3%.

A similar result is expected for the energy efficiency target for 2020.

As the Commission is in the process of revising the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), it is crucial to seize this opportunity to address the reasons for such an outcome of current energy efficiency policies.

One clear issue is the fact that the renewable energy target is binding at EU level, while the energy efficiency one still is not.

In the current context of dire health, economic and environmental crisis, we cannot afford this discrepancy. We need both higher and nationally binding energy efficiency targets, given all the benefits that investments in this segment can reap.

Following the position of the European Parliament, which asked for 60% emissions reduction by 2030, and taking into account the abovementioned impact assessment, the existing target for energy efficiency needs to be increased to 45% to untap the energy efficiency potential.

To ensure delivery, the EU level target should be made binding.

However, setting a better target is not enough. The most arduous element is providing means to achieve it. Those are regulatory and financial, and both can be ensured through the EED, which is currently planned for revision by June 2021.

 

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EU-ASE featured in Energy Efficiency Magazine 2020 – EE and Economic Recovery

Energy Efficiency in Recovery Plans gives Europe an ace up its sleeves for both today’s and tomorrow’s challenges

by Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE)

Crucial for climate mitigation, energy efficiency should be a key focus area in Member States’ stimulus programmes. This would greatly benefit the bloc’s economy, while setting the EU on the path to becoming a leading player in global markets.

European Union governments are in the process of designing massive stimulus packages to sustain socio-economic recovery following the devastating impact of COVID-19. The plan is to develop spending programmes large enough to bring the economy back on track, while at the same time ensuring that investments are aligned with Europe’s sustainable economic growth strategy as outlined by the European Green Deal.

Against this backdrop, it is useful to look back at the last time when major public stimulus plans were implemented: the global financial crisis of late 2008. As IEA’s Fatih Birol has rightly recalled, the extra spending on clean energy following the 2008 crisis contributed positively to economic recovery. Recovery was also made possible through energy efficiency programs which supported a construction sector hard-hit by the crisis. However, that recovery was energy and carbon intensive: global CO2 emissions declined by 400 million tonnes in 2009, but they rebounded by 1.7 billion tonnes in 2010 in the sharpest upswing in history. This cannot be repeated in a decade which is crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change and preventing the irreversible effect of dramatic temperature rise. This is even more true for Europe, since the bloc has pledged to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The EU needs to learn from what happened with the last crisis and show the world how to pursue recovery while cutting energy consumption and related emissions.

Here are a few reasons why energy efficiency policies should be among the key areas of national and European stimulus programmes.

First, energy efficiency is paramount for climate mitigation: through existing technologies, it is possible to reduce energy consumption, increase the efficiency of the entire energy system and accelerate the integration of renewables. According to the IEA, 76% of the European greenhouse gas emission reductions required to keep temperature increases below 1.5°C must come from energy efficiency.

Secondly, from an industrial point of view, energy efficiency has great added value as its value chain is deeply European. In fact, Europe hosts some of the most innovative and successful energy efficiency companies in the world. The members of the European Alliance to Save Energy are global “champions” that export technologies and drive innovation. Hundreds of other players, especially small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), also operate in this field locally across the continent.

Investing in energy efficiency also means investing in European innovation, especially when it comes to the construction sector. According to data from the European Patent Office, green construction-related patent filings have tripled in a little over a decade. These include technologies for energy-efficient insulation, “green” lighting, and incorporating renewable energies in buildings.

If Europe develops a technological leadership in energy efficiency, it will have a strong competitive advantage helping with access to global markets. Indeed, innovations developed in Europe and investments in more efficient and ecologically friendly buildings will pay back quickly with dividends and millions of well-paying, local jobs.

This explains why energy efficiency is a ‘must have’ in government stimulus programmes. EU Heads of State and Government have agreed to provide the Union with the necessary means to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to mobilize 750 billion EUR to be committed by end of 2023. Member States should seize this opportunity and invest without hesitation in efficiency projects at national and local levels.

While the 30% climate target for the expenditure of these resources is a step in the right direction, EU governments should agree on clearer rules and stringent green conditionalities for qualitative use of recovery funds. Additionally, resources should be earmarked for investments in sectors with high potential, like construction.

It is time for Member States to fully implement the energy efficiency first principle to avoid new costly energy infrastructure that would jeopardise EU efforts to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Finally, Members should modernize their economies to increase resilience and tackle climate change impacts without delay

This would bring great economic and social benefits in the short term and contribute to protecting the environment in the long term.

 

About the magazine

The EE Magazine promotes energy efficiency by compiling short articles from renowned international energy experts, showcasing the latest innovations and achievements in this sector.

This year special edition, which focuses on the role of energy efficiency in COVID-19 economic stimulus programs, as well as the climate benefits of efficiency, was launched by the EE Global Alliance (EEGA) during a Climate Week NYC webinar organised by the Alliance to Save Energy and the Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Access the full EE Magazine Special Edition on EE and Economic Recovery

View a recording of the launch webinar here.

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