Europe, it’s time to up your game on energy efficiency

Roland Jöbstl, EEB Policy Officer for Energy and Climate

Ever since the first oil crisis in 1973 exposed the massive dependence of the well-oiled economic growth of the post-war on fossil fuels, energy efficiency has become a central pillar of sound energy policies. In 2018, 45 years after the first oil crisis, it’s time to level up and harness the full power of energy efficiency.

In the last 45 years, energy efficiency has transformed our lives. Today every single new-built home fulfils minimum energy performance requirements. Tenants have the right to know how good or how bad the energy performance of their home is. The products of our daily life, from dishwashers to car tyres are designed to save energy and lower consumer bills. From our homes to the appliances we use every day, European energy efficiency rules help to cut energy waste and bills without giving up on comfort.

All this was driven by a common European vision and legal framework, known today as the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), which aims to reach an energy efficiency target of 20% across member states by 2020.

EU lawmakers are now renegotiating the EED to set targets for 2030 and continue to improve existing measures. This is an opportunity to bring the EU’s energy efficiency policies in line with the objective of the Paris climate Agreement and unlock future benefits for citizens and the environment. But policy experts have already pointed out that this vision is threatened by existing legal loopholes and insufficient targets.

To begin with, only a strong energy efficiency target will enable Europe to fulfil the Paris Agreement.

Already in 2014, a study from the Fraunhofer ISI Institute for the Commission’s Directorate General for Energy had assessed the economic potential for energy savings in 2030. The researchers found that a target of 40% energy efficiency would be the cheapest way to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions while saving on consumer bills and creating overall economic benefits.

In 2016, the European Commission proposed an EU energy efficiency target of 30% to be achieved by 2030, shying away from the full economic potential and ignoring the energy consumption in the transport sector. While the Commission’s proposal maintained many of the important elements it was criticised for its lack of ambition, with many NGOs calling for a 40% target.

Furthermore, current and proposed rules ignore the energy used in the transport sector due to a loophole in the legislation. Transport accounts for one third of energy use in Europe, and while other sectors reduced their climate impacts, the greenhouse gas emissions from transport have grown by 23% since 1990. The burden of clogged streets, polluted cities and noisy highways have hit citizens across Europe and are a major obstacle to our climate efforts.

NGOs have warned that EU energy savings rules risks being watered down throughout the three-way negotiations between the European Commission, Parliament and member states – known as trialogues.

As part of these negotiations, the European Parliament has demanded an increase in the EU’s energy efficiency target to at least 35%, and for the transport sector to be included in the obligation for member states.

National governments, on the other hand, have held back and proposed in June 2017 even weaker rules than the European Commission.

Now, Bulgaria and Austria, which hold the presidency of the Council of the EU in 2018, are tasked with concluding the three-way negotiations. Many member states are still reluctant to show ambition but as a first positive sign, the governments of Sweden, Portugal, Luxembourg, France and Germany have voiced support for increasing the EU energy savings target beyond the Commission proposal of 30%. Sweden is even supporting the European Parliament’s 35% demand. France and Germany support closing the transport loophole so that the sector can finally become part of the energy efficiency success story.

A good signal came also from the March 2018 European Council summit, where heads of state and government agreed to develop a long-term climate strategy to translate the objectives of the Paris Agreement into action.

As the negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the member states continue, the time to act on climate change is running out.

With 2020 on our doorstep, the time is right to set the framework for 2030 and beyond.

45 years after the first oil crisis, we have to use the full economic potential of energy efficiency to deliver the Paris Agreement.

45 years after the first oil crisis,  we have a chance to make things right and cut energy waste in the transport sector.

45 years after the first oil crisis it’s time to level up energy efficiency.