Laws to slow climate change
Publication date: 02 April 2008
Spring brings renewal and this spring in parliament MEPs will be considering a new Commission directive on renewable energy. In March last year EU leaders set a target of 20% of energy from renewable sources like the wind and sea by 2020. Alongside greater energy efficiency and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions it is hoped these steps will mitigate climate change. In the first of our series on the climate change package, we look at the proposed legislation and its likely impact.
One man who will be much occupied with these issues is parliament's newly appointed rapporteur for the proposed directive - Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes. Appointed by the industry, research and energy committee his job will be to report back to MEPs on that committee as they try to finalise their position by the end of June.
The proposals cover electricity, heating, cooling and biofuels. Launched in January this year it proposes national action plans for countries enabling people to see how much progress a country is making. Also envisaged are rules relating to so called "guarantees of origin". In layman's terms this is meant to ensure that renewable energy is in fact from a renewable source. The Commission has also set out safeguards on the sustainability of biofuels.
Current 8.5% renewable energy use must rise
Claude Turmes has doubts about the workability of the "guarantees of origin" as proposed by the Commission. He feels they are based on "weak legal grounds" and "may put at peril current systems of national support schemes for renewable energy". He is more positive however about the national targets the Commission saying that "we looked into the figures and find they are very good".
The sea, wind and thermal energy trapped in the earth are likely to be the main facets of Europe's renewable future. The use of biofuel and biomass could also play a part. At present 8.5% of the European Union's energy is produced from renewable means. However, this figure disguises large national disparities in usage. For example in Sweden they get 39% of their energy from renewable sources whereas Malta has no renewable energy.
Less CO2 = more jobs?
Clearly there is a lot of work still to be done if the 20% target is to be achieved. It has been estimated that reaching the target could save from 600-900 million tonnes of CO2 a year and cut fossil fuel consumption by 200-3000 million tonnes per annum.
There are strong economic as well as ecological reasons to strive for that target. The Commission estimates that if the figure is reached up to 1 million people across Europe could be employed in the renewable energy sector. That would represent a substantial increase over the 350,000 currently working in the sector.
Mixed response to biofuels and biomass
Claude Turmes is not a fan of the inclusion of biofuels. EU leaders meeting in March last year pledged to have 10% of the Union's transport running on biofuels by 2020. Speaking in Strasbourg in the January plenary Mr Turmes said the Commission "did not have the courage to drop" the biofuels target. He hoped that MEPs would find the courage to remove it. Turmes also cites scientific evidence to show that "annual crops like sugar beet and wheat have a very bad CO2 balance".
Turning to biomass, Mr Turmes is more positive. "The biomass we have in Europe would be put to much better use in combined heat and power systems" (for example in power stations that burn biomass instead of coal). On the energy savings of biomass he is clear: "I can save three to four times as much CO2 when using biomass (as compared to biofuels) instead of coal for electricity and heat generation".
Claude Turmes is a leading figure in Luxembourg's environmental movement. He was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 for the Green party "Déi Gréng” in order to participate in discussions "where European environment and energy policy is formulated". He is the current vice President of the Green/EFA group of MEPs and is their coordinator for energy policy.
Source: European parliament press service