European perspectives

Energy Transition – Think European

Energy has become a core issue for the European Union. However, the EU does not have an exclusive competence in this field.

Making it a shared competence in the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 was a bold move forward, but it remains a natural field of conflict between Member States and many EU institutions. Member States have the right to determine their own energy mix, but the European Commission has the competence to elaborate the EU’s sustainable energy and climate policy. As the discussions about the completion of the internal energy market and the Energy Union show, the national sovereign right to decide about the energy mix remains a much valued asset. But even the most reluctant Member States see the benefits of bundling competences and joining hands with their neighbors, or to even give a mandate to the European Commission to act on their behalf, when it comes to negotiating at the international level. This becomes even more important against the backdrop of energy security and energy independence from unreliable suppliers. On the global stage, the EU’s former frontrunner role as an ambitious climate union has lost some of its sheen. Internally, the EU has actually pushed things forward: the recent years saw the EU making clear commitments through a number of very important legislation on renewables and energy efficiency measures, the declared ambition to create an Energy Union 2015, or the long-term energy policy vision energy roadmap 2050. At the same time, the EU depends on its Member States’ ambitions and the last years have seen a fragmentation of diverging national energy policies. While some are fully engaged in clean energy transition, a nuclear phase-out and reductions in CO2 emissions, others explore unconventional resources, such as shale gas or heavily subsidize risky technologies like nuclear.

Where do the EU and its Member States stand when it comes to the concrete implementation of climate and energy objectives? The energy roadmap 2050 aims to create a low-carbon European economy, while improving Europe's competitiveness and security of supply. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, binding interim milestones have been decided for 2020 and 2030. More concretely, the EU’s 2020 climate and energy framework aims at a 20 percent CO2 emissions reduction, a 20 percent renewables share in the electricity mix and an increase in energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020. As a tool for these emissions reductions, an Emissions Trading System has been set up, as the first of its kind world-wide and widely copied by other countries and regions.

So far, the EU is on track to meet its 2020 objectives. A more detailed analysis can be obtained here and country profiles are regularly updated to track European progress.

However, more efforts will be needed in particular to reach the 2030 targets. After tough political negotiations in 2014, Member States agreed to the lowest common denominator of reducing CO2 emissions by at least 40 percent, increasing the share of renewable energy to at least 27 percent (binding at EU-level) and increasing energy efficiency by at least 27 percent. After the Paris climate conference in December 2015, some more ambition might be needed to achieve the "well below 2°C, towards 1.5°C" objective of the global community. It is still a long winding road to achieve this and the EU’s low-carbon economy goals for 2050. Stay tuned.