In 2007, the European Union (EU) adopted its integrated approach to climate and energy policy. By 2020, the region aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent below 1990 levels, to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent. While the EU is on track to meet or exceed its goals in the first two categories, it is set to miss its energy efficiency target and is poised to reduce its energy consumption by only 9 percent.
Under current EU rules, energy efficiency is the only energy and climate target that is not legally binding. Despite the forecasted shortfall, two weeks ago Europe’s heads of state shied away from taking decisive action on energy efficiency and announced a review of the region’s energy savings plan in 2013 at the earliest. European leaders said they did not want to place additional constraints on their economic policy during a period of economic crisis.
What explains the difference in success rates among the EU targets? Critics contend that the lack of enforceability is to blame for the region’s shortcomings in energy efficiency. A closer look at the EU’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, however, reveals that binding targets alone may not be sufficient to reach energy-efficiency goals.
The EU-15 committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 8 percent below 1990 levels for the 2008–2012 period. Under the EU’s burden-sharing program, some member states vowed to reduce emissions by up to 21 percent while others were allowed to increase their emissions by up to 27 percent.
On average, the region achieved a reduction of 6.9 percent by 2008 and appears well on its way for a 20 percent reduction by 2020. The aggregate figure, however, obscures the fact that only six EU-15 member states met their 2008 emission reduction targets. Large emitters such as Germany and the U.K. succeeded in reducing their emissions far below the target levels and picked up the slack for those countries that exceeded their quotas. (See Table.) Without the efforts of Germany and the U.K., the EU would have certainly fallen short of its 2008–2012 targets.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in CO2-equivalents: Target for 2008-12 and Actual Change 1990-2008
|target in million tons||target in %||actual in million tons||actual in %|
|Germany & UK||– 351||– 17||– 424||– 21.0|
|EU-15||– 341||– 8.0||– 295||– 6.9|
|EU-15 minus Germany & UK||+ 10||+ 0.23||+ 129||+ 3.0|
Why do the results differ widely among EU-15 member states, despite the fact that emission targets were binding for all countries? And why have Germany and the U.K. managed to outperform other EU member states in their effort to reduce CO2 emissions?
Domestic economic and political developments may provide an answer. Germany passed a substantial renewable energy law in 2000, and by 2008 the share of renewable energy had jumped from 2 percent to 9 percent. In the U.K., a rapid decline in oil and natural gas production helped reduce the country’s carbon footprint.
This suggests that the effect of binding EU regulation has so far proven to be limited when it comes to achieving energy and climate goals. The lack of enforceability of the EU’s energy-efficiency goals certainly contributes to the region’s shortcomings, but the solution to achieve the targets may rest with the policy initiatives of individual member states.