Back in October 2014, EU leaders agreed on the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies – aimed at making both the EU economy and its energy system more sustainable, secure and competitive – with a ‘domestic’ 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels. Here, the renowned German Fraunhofer Institute helps to make this abstract statement much more concrete by putting numbers to this 1990 baseline: “In 1990, nearly 993 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activities, the largest proportion of which came from generating electricity and heat.”
Additional critical building blocks of the 2030 policy framework for climate and energy include the EU member states’ commitment to increase the share of renewable energy sources to at least 27 per cent of energy consumption by 2030 in addition to improving energy efficiency with an indicative target at the EU level of at least 27 per cent. The European Council is expected to review the latter indicative target in 2020 and then aim a bit higher.
So, is the EU as a whole making adequate progress towards meeting its stated climate-related goals? And if so, which are the countries leading the pack – Germany, the self-perceived global leader in climate protection? Two recent studies provide interesting insight into these questions.
According to analysis from the European Environment Agency (EEA) of EU Member States’ own projections, the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by two percentage points between 2012 and 2013 thereby already putting the EU as a whole “very close to its 2020 reduction target.” The region is also on track to meet its two other targets; namely, boosting the share of renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency by 2020. “Even against the backdrop of economic recession in recent years, we can see that policies and measures are working and have played a key role in reaching this interim result. But there is no room for complacency,” Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said.
Note, a general slowdown in economic activity or outright contraction should not be cited in connection with meeting any climate-related benchmarks for the simple fact that lower future economic growth projections will necessarily lead to reduced GHG emissions due to industrial capacity under-utilization and consequently lower demand for energy. Obviously, complicity in ‘slowing down’ economic growth in Europe and, in general, a slow economic growth environment amid rising populations around the globe where significant poverty exists in many developing nations cannot be the strategy to preserve the planet for future generations.
Additionally, the EEA analysis shows a more mixed picture at member state level in comparison to the EU level. “Nine countries were making good progress in pursuing the three linked policy objectives (…) while no Member State was underperforming in all areas,” the EEA points out. Interestingly, the graphic below shows that Germany does not appear to be on track to meet all the targets set. Germany is only on track with the ‘share of renewables in final energy consumption’ target. However, indicators with respect to the development of German GHG emissions and energy efficiency are showing signs of deterioration.
Progress of EU Member States towards 2020 Climate and Energy Targets
Another study now seems to confirm the above finding in the sense that despite Germany’s valiant efforts by implementing the ‘Energiewende’ to rid itself as much as possible of its fossil fuel dependency while protecting the climate at the same time, the country remains a long way from actually accomplishing that challenging goal. Denmark – instead of Germany – should be the country to talk about regarding policies to promote renewables and energy efficiency, according to the NGO Germanwatch.
In the new 2015 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) report – published and produced together by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe – the climate protection performance of 58 countries – together responsible for more than 90 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions – is evaluated and compared using comprehensive and prudent standardized criteria.
On the basis of those criteria, Denmark followed by Sweden and the UK were the three best performing countries in the 2015 Climate Change Performance Index – all with falling CO2 emissions. Germany, in turn, finished only 22nd overall, but was the ‘least polluting’ among the top ten largest CO2 emitters on the index. Note, for countries to be awarded one of the first three positions they do have to “consistently [surpass] the benchmark”- i.e. doing “enough to avoid exceeding the two-degree-limit.” The following graphic only lists the ranking of OECD (industrialized) countries in the overall index and is meant to illustrate that receding energy intensities do not necessarily have a negative impact on a country’s future economic growth trajectory (read the entire 2015 CCPI report here for overall results and interesting details about other countries).
The report praises Denmark for “ambitious renewable energy and emissions reduction policies” noting that “[e]ven though emission levels are still relatively high, the country sets an example in how industrialised countries can not only promise, but also implement effective climate protection policies.” In contrast, Germany’s continued significant reliance on coal-fired baseload power generation – alongside a now slowed expansion of renewable energy sources (wind and solar) – got in the way of a better score in the 2015 global climate protection index. However, Germanwatch notes that the German government’s December 2014 climate action program (“Aktionsprogramm Klimaschutz 2020”), which has not been considered in the current report, paves a realistic path – if followed through in terms of implementing the described energy efficiency measures as well as reducing coal-fired capacity to shave additional CO2 emissions off the total amount attributed to coal-fired power generation – towards reaching Germany’s set climate targets and improving its future ranking.
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