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Policy Certainty is Key to Meeting Europe's 2020 Climate Goals

Another week, another prediction on Europe’s ability to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets. This time the forecast comes from the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC). Following last week’s EU Sustainable Energy Week, the Council’s Keep On Track! project has published its EU Tracking Roadmap, a publication which it says will be produced again in 2014 and 2015 in order to measure where Europe stands in relation to its climate goals.

The roadmap focuses on eleven EU Member States – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK – finding that while the EU as a whole is broadly on track for 2020, only Austria, Italy and Sweden are expected to meet their 2020 targets. EREC expressed serious doubts as to whether Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Portugal will meet theirs, and it said Belgium, Poland, Spain and the UK are expected to miss their targets altogether. 

According to the roadmap, 21 Member States have already met their interim targets for 2011-2012 (and in some cases the targets had already been met in 2010), with only the UK, the Netherlands, Malta, Luxembourg, Latvia and France falling behind. EREC cautioned that this early high achievement is not surprising given the relatively low ambition level of the interim targets – but the gap between achieved and achievable will widen as 2020 grows closer.

“It’s plain sailing for the 21 Member States who have already achieved their 2011-2012 targets. However, there are worrying signs on the horizon as current growth rates are insufficient to meet the 2020 targets,” said EREC president Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes.

EREC identified significant barriers holding back growth across renewable energy sectors. The biggest problems, it said, have resulted from shortcomings in renewables strategy and legislation, including a lack of long-term vision on the part of decision-makers and unclear legislative frameworks. Policy instability and, for some technologies, insufficient incentive levels are the next largest problem impeding growth. And EREC identified other barriers such as insufficient information about renewable energy sources, administrative issues, technological deficits and lack of knowledge and/or skills.

Of the four Member States – Belgium, Poland, Spain and the UK – expected to miss their 2020 targets, the roadmap found that Belgium has successfully met both its interim 2011-2012 target and its National Renewable Action Plan (NREAP) target, but that its annual growth rate will not be high enough to catch up for 2020. Poland missed its interim target for the renewable electricity sector but met its other interim and NREAP targets; however, EREC points out that an unstable support system and a draft Act that fails to provide stability, coupled with poor grid infrastructure and access and a government determined to develop conventional power plants is likely to leave the nation behind. Spain’s moratorium on renewable energy installations, tax on electricity generation and retroactive subsidy cuts abruptly demoted it from a world-leading market to a poster nation for how not to meet climate goals, while in the UK neither interim nor NREAP targets have been met, growth rates have slowed, and policy uncertainty and mixed signals from the government have severely eroded investor confidence.  

If Europe is to meet its 2020 targets, EREC said, the most important step Member States must take is creating predictable and stable policy environments. Europe must also phase out fossil fuel subsidies, remove administrative barriers to investment in renewable power projects, ensure more competition in internal energy markets so that consumers can choose independent renewable energy producers, and offer a thorough analysis of the relation between electricity prices and tariff deficits so that governments do not "shoot the wrong target" by removing support for renewables in order to address tariff deficits.

Lead image: renewable energy target via Shutterstock

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