EU leaders: don’t waste this opportunity

» By | Published 03 Feb 2011

On Friday 4 February, European Heads of State will gather in Brussels for a European Union summit on energy. It’s the first time they have held a summit on energy and it shows how important energy policy has now become. You can say that with this summit energy has finally reached top of the political agenda.

It is symbolic of EU’s energy problems that tomorrow’s EU energy summit may be overshadowed – at least in the media – by EU leaders discussing the crisis in Egypt.

The instability in Egypt has caused a surge in oil prices, past the $100 per barrel mark, due to fears about disruptions in oil flows through the Suez canal. What better reason could there be to focus on switching to domestically produced renewable energy such as wind and solar? What better reason to decide now to work towards 100% renewable energy by 2050 and agree concrete intermediate goals on how to get there?

I very much welcome European Heads of State meeting to discuss energy. Over the past two years, the EU’s leaders have made strong and valuable decisions on energy, with their unanimous adoption of the Climate and Energy Package which sets mandatory national targets for the share of renewables and greenhouse gas reductions in 2020.

I fear that the Heads of State will spend the majority of their summit discussing those past achievements, instead of providing a longer term vision for Europe’s energy future in a fuel and carbon constrained world. We risk disappointment in our leaders’ reluctance to address where the energy sector will go after 2020. Due to the long timescale of investments, lengthy planning procedures and (for some technologies) long construction times of power plants and infrastructure, 2020 is a fraction of an investment cycle away.

What will happen tomorrow? I believe Heads of State will reiterate their commitment to creating an internal European market in electricity. I think they are likely to acknowledge the need to build – and in some cases help to fund – the grid infrastructure to enable the trade of electricity across the Union. That’s all fine. Who could disagree? But I suspect there will be few new proposals or commitments, and instead we will get a list of initiatives that have already been agreed. It will then be up to the European Commission to make the proposals that we all know are already in the pipeline. The Heads of State will most probably acknowledge the already agreed objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% before 2050, but I fear that they will do little to address what needs to be done to reach it.

There is a desperate need for the 27 leaders to meet and agree on a vision for Europe’s energy future beyond 2020. I fear that Friday’s meeting will be a lost opportunity.