The 27 European Heads of State met in Brussels today for their first-ever summit on energy. What was the result? They reiterated the need for an internal market in electricity, for new infrastructure and for cutting greenhouse gases by 80-95% by 2050. That’s positive – they have at least not gone back on what they previously committed to. But there seem to be no new initiatives to achieve these old commitments. They acknowledge the need for long-term strategic thinking, but have so far not come up with any visionary ideas for the period beyond 2020.
None of the conclusions from Friday’s meeting goes beyond what the Heads of State have already agreed over the past two years for the period up to 2020. For the energy sector, 2020 is just around the corner and Europe’s leaders must address the long-term challenges arising from the dual crisis of climate change and rising global competition for scarce, increasingly expensive and depleting fossil fuels.
Long-term challenges require vision and long-term decisions. The Heads of State rightly agreed that the 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “will require a revolution in energy systems” and that “due consideration should be given to fixing concrete intermediary stages towards reaching the 2050 objective”. They are right on both counts, but they refuse to start the revolution or provide any guidance on intermediary stages, for example by providing new targets for greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy for 2030.
Neither do Europe’s leaders seem to understand the magnitude and speed of the change needed to achieve their own 2050 carbon reduction commitment. Reducing Europe’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% necessitates a carbon-free electricity sector by 2050, because the residual emissions would be needed in sectors where emission reductions are difficult or very expensive to achieve, such as agriculture and transport. That, in turn, means that no new coal-fired power plant can be built after 2015, because due to their long lifetime they would still be operating after 2050. That reality should also have been addressed by Europe’s leaders at Friday’s energy summit.