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New report from the European Environment Agency: Europe needs an integrated energy strategy

27.11.2006

Europe needs an integrated energy strategy that gives equal weight to energy security, competitiveness and environmental sustainability, according to the conclusions of a new report from the European Environment Agency. Published in July, this second edition of the report on energy and environment looks at progress towards integrating environmental concerns into the European energy sector. The report concludes that more action is required to reduce energy consumption and to encourage the introduction of technologies with low environmental impacts. In particular, it recommends greater use of renewable energy sources and reiterates the need for long term targets (beyond 2010), to provide a clear direction for EU energy policy.

‘Energy and Environment in the European Union - Tracking Progress Towards Integration’ is based on a set of indicators monitored over the period 1990 to 2003. The EEA has tracked six key trends related to energy use and the environment. These are:

- Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions have recently shown an upward trend after a decrease in the 1990s, putting long-term reduction targets at risk. Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 2.6% between 1990 and 2003, but have risen slightly in recent years.
- Most energy prices have been increasing since 2000 after significant reductions during the 1990s. Tax levels have increased since 1990, but external costs have not been fully internalised .
- Energy-related air pollutant emissions declined but air quality continues to have adverse effects on health and ecosystems. From 1990 and 2003, energy-related emissions of acidifying substances, tropospheric ozone precursors and particles decreased by 56 %, 41 % and 47 %respectively.
- Energy consumption continues to grow, making it more difficult to reduce energy-related environmental impacts. European energy consumption has continued to grow, by 11.6% over the same period. The major drivers behind this increase have been rising per capita incomes and lifestyle changes with consequently increased expectations regarding transport and comfort levels. Electricity consumption grew more than twice as fast as overall final energy consumption, due to its flexibility in end use.
- Fossil fuels continue to dominate energy consumption but abatement measures and fuel switching have reduced environmental pressures. Combustion of fossil fuels is the main source of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and emissions of nitrogen oxides, accounting for almost 80% of total energy consumption and 55% of electricity production.
- The proportion of renewables in total energy and electricity consumption remains at a low level despite large increases in installed capacity of some renewable technologies. Significant action is needed to meet the EU indicative target of 12% of energy from renewables by 2010. The production of energy and electricity from renewable energy sources grew steadily between 1990 and 2003, with particularly large increases in wind and solar electricity. A significant further expansion will be needed to meet the EU indicative targets of a 12 % share in total energy consumption and 21 % share in gross electricity consumption by 2010.

One of the main findings of the report is that progress in the renewable energy field is being undermined by increased use of energy. Rapidly growing demand for transport and electricity is of particular concern as both continue to rely largely on fossil fuels. "Ensuring a long-term integrated energy framework is urgent due to the imminent need for investment in energy production infrastructure. This opens up opportunities for an environmentally-sustainable development of the energy sector enhancing renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said EEA Executive Director, Professor McGlade.

Specifically, the report calls for increased funding for energy research and development, to support technologies from their inception right through to commercialisation and widespread deployment. Last month, the International Energy Authority (IEA) also stressed in 'Energy Technology Perspectives: Scenarios and Strategies to 2050 ' the importance of acting now to implement energy saving measures and promote a wider mix of energy technologies. The publication highlights the need for governments around the world to encourage investment in energy technologies.

EWEA welcomes the calls for increased R&D expenditure and agrees that there is no one technological answer to current energy challenges. However, regarding energy R&D, funding increases are particularly needed in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Strong research investment in renewable energy technologies and efficiency measures would also constitute a concrete answer from European decision-makers to current concerns about security of supply and climate change. A recent call (June 2006) from the European Parliament to allocate 2/3 of the non-nuclear energy budget (25% of the total energy R&D budget) under the next framework programme to renewable energy and energy efficiency research could be a crucial step towards a genuinely sustainable energy policy, although to date the European Commission has signaled unwillingness to adopt the view of the Parliament.

The report suggests also that a significant shift in EU energy policy, towards an integrated strategy, to simultaneously address energy security, environmental sustainability and competitiveness is much needed and would be timely. For the EEA, “ substantially increased use of renewables and energy efficiency technologies are a key part of a long-term sustainable energy system. Furthermore, long-term targets (beyond 2010) for increasing energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy sources in the EU would provide further clear signals about the direction of energy policy.”

Such calls reflect the recent change in opinion of some politicians and stakeholders on the future of the EU energy policy following the sustained rise in fuel prices and increasing concerns over energy security. In EWEA’s opinion, the report accurately describes the energy challenges Europe is facing: urgent need for investment, increasing dependency on fossil fuels, rise of global demand for energy, climate change, and non-competitive energy markets.

EWEA welcomes the conclusion of the EEA report that more action is required to achieve greater environmental integration within the energy sector, and that it is time to act. The public debate launched by the European Commission green paper on “A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy,” and the conclusions of the spring council for a common energy policy (and an agreed reference to a 15% RES by 2015) should be seen as an historic opportunity to make a dramatic change to European energy policy based on renewable sources of energy, combined with much more ambitious efficiency measures.

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