Coal for Christmas as ministers endorse years more subsidies for Europe’s most polluting fuels

European energy ministers last night agreed their proposals for the future of EU energy laws after almost fifteen hours of sometimes tense negotiations in the Council of the EU.

The national governments’ positions have been almost universally criticised by climate and environmental campaigners as totally incompatible with the Paris agreement and “Christmas come early” for coal.

A wide-ranging reform of the EU’s energy laws – the so-called ‘Clean Energy Package’ – was launched in November 2016 and yesterday’s meeting agreed joint positions between Member States’ governments in four key areas.

The EEB’s Policy Officer on Climate and Energy, Roland Jöbstl was hugely disappointed by the result of the negotiations:

“Yesterday’s outcome is totally incompatible with the Paris agreement. We can’t continue subsidizing fossil fuels and holding back renewable energy. National governments’ must think again to ensure that Europe’s clean energy package lives up to its name.”

One of the most controversial proposals, reported last week in META, was to allow Europe’s coal plants continued access to so-called capacity payments – guaranteed funds that some claim can help to ensure a secure supply of energy to the grid but which are widely dismissed by campaigners as damaging fossil fuel subsidies.

An initial proposal from the European Commission would have banned the most carbon-intensive plants from accessing these capacity funds. But ministers last night diluted that proposal so that coal plants could continue to collect money until the end of 2035 in some circumstances.

According to climate experts, in order to stay below the 2°C target agreed as part of the Paris accord, all OECD countries will need to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest, meaning that coal plants are likely to be able to enjoy these government subsidies right up until the day they finally close.

Estonia, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK were dubbed the “Frustrating Five” by think tank E3G after for their failure to speak up in opposition to coal subsidies. The UK came in for particular criticism for leading an international coalition under the title “Powering Past Coal” while refusing to speak up for restrictions on coal in the European energy market.

Member States were also criticised for their failure to call for an increased target for renewable energy, instead clinging to a 27% target that the Commission has already accepted is too low because of the “spectacular” drop in price since it was proposed.

The next step of the law making process will involve discussions between the more ambitious Parliament, the Commission and the Council, with meeting expected to begin in the first half of 2018.