EU Commission energy package hanging in the balance

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European Union (EU) commissioners are reportedly struggling to reach a final agreement on the detail of the forthcoming package of policies on EU energy, to be published Wednesday. The package will include proposals on issues such as coal, carbon capture and storage, renewables, and long term climate change targets.

A preliminary analysis of the leaked documents, most of which I’ve seen, indicates that some of the documents will be heavily drawing on the UK government’s Stern Review report issued in 2006, which warned of massive economic and social damages if the world failed to tackle climate change.

In an apparent contradiction, though, there appears to be considerable debate on whether and how renewables should continue to grow. There has been much debate on whether this target should be expressed solely as a general energy target, or whether there should also be targets for electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. The current system includes targets for electricity and transport, and discussions were underway to set targets for heating and cooling. The renewable energy industry and environmental groups have been extremely alarmed about these attempts to change a system that is working well. The EU Parliament voted in December to keep and strenghen these sectoral targets.

The Commission will also issue league tables assessing how member countries are doing in meeting their existing renewable targets. Eight countries well on track on their renewables target, and some will exceed it. The UK is among the countries that are not on track and which may need to change their policies, the draft says.

The draft proposals also say global emissions should be halved by 2050 compared with levels in 1990 and that the EU should show world leadership on the issue. The documents mention the need for long term targets beyond 2012, as required by the Kyoto Protocol. There is considerable debate about how high the target should be, and we can also expect a big battle later on how to achieve this target and what it includes.

Other issues covered in the draft proposals include:

-measures to promote so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology to store Carbon Dioxide underground, with the possibility of ten demonstration CCS plants by 2015 and a requirement for all new coal plants capture ready.

-the possibility that in the future the EU might put in place measures to tackle shipping emissions.

-the EU Commission modeling assumes that nuclear power will grow. However, nuclear power in Europe has stalled for decades and it is hard to imagine how this trend will be reversed. It is possible, although not certain, that there will no specific proposals leaving Member States to decide on this (also, most EU member states do not have plans to expand nuclear power and many do not have any nuclear capacity at all).

-proposals to liberalise energy markets further. According to a Reuters story Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes and Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had pushed hardest for liberalisation of the sector while Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, who are German and French respectively, opposed radical changes.

-measures to improve management of oil and gas stocks and better interconnectivity of power grids among EU countries. There are hopes this would potentially give the bloc one voice in dealing with third countries.

-proposal for a a major international agreement on saving energy with the aim of signing it during the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, as reported by Reuters.

The energy ministers of all 27 Member States will meet on 15 February to discuss the package, and environment ministers will meet five days later. On 8 and 9 March, all heads of state will meet to make final decisions on it.

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