EU energy chief labels new climate targets “stupid”

EU energy commissioner has condemned the EU’s 2030 package, which he helped to announce last week

Energy commissioner Gunter Oettinger is fighting a public battle against a 40% emissions reduction target (Source: European Parliament)

Energy commissioner Gunter Oettinger is fighting a public battle against a 40% emissions reduction target (Source: European Parliament)

By Sophie Yeo

Splits have emerged in Brussels over the EU’s 2030 climate package, just a week after the proposals were announced by the Commission.

Energy commissioner Günther Oettinger yesterday attacked the EU’s decision to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030, calling the target “arrogant or stupid”.

He argued that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would not be worth the financial effort on the part of the EU, since the 28-state bloc is only responsible for a fraction of global emissions.

“Every percentage going down gets more difficult and cost intensive,” he told an industry conference organised by BusinessEurope, an influential lobby group frequently blamed for opposing ambitious EU climate targets.

The EU is currently responsible for just under 11% of global emissions today, he noted, and this is projected to drop to just 4.5% by 2030.

He continued: “To think that with this 4.5% of global emissions you can save the world is not realistic. It is arrogant or stupid. We need a global commitment.”

Oettinger is known to have fought against the 40% target while negotiations were taking place, favouring a reduction of 35%.

His comments are significant given he shared a podium with EC President Jose Manuel Barosso and climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard last week at the launch of the 2030 climate and energy package that included the 40% reduction target.

“I have to be constructive as I’m a member of the team but I’m sceptical,” Oettinger told the BusinessEurope conference.

The EU is currently expected to cut emissions 35% from 1990 levels by the middle of the next decade. This has prompted criticism from green groups that a 40% cut by 2030 isn’t much more than business-as-usual, and will fail to set an example to other large emitters at UN climate talks.

International deal

The package, which also includes an EU-wide target for renewable energy, still needs to be passed by the European Council and EU Parliament before it becomes legislation.

Some countries at UN climate talks say EU targets will be crucial to negotiations for a new international global treaty on climate change ahead of a crunch conference in Paris in late 2015.

Speaking at King’s College London yesterday, climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard emphasised that Europe had the responsibility to take the first step.

“We are still the world’s largest economy,” she said. “We cannot just point fingers and say, ‘After you, sir.’ The whole world is looking to Europe and Europe’s leadership and saying, ‘If you can show us we can decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, then we might be able also to do it.’”

The final package secured by the EU will form the basis of its proposed contribution to UN talks.

The official deadline for proposals is the first quarter of 2015, when other large emitters such as the US are expected to submit their plans to the UN.

Last month, Poland’s Environment Secretary Marcin Korolec said that Europe should not act ahead of the rest of the world, as it risked being “abandoned” by less ambitious countries.

Old battle lines

Oettinger’s position on the 40% target is not new, and is his personal opinion, a spokesperson for the EC’s climate arm told RTCC.

“The Commission’s position is 40%. It’s in Europe’s economic interest…Commissioners should be loyal to what the [overall] Commission has defended and stand by what the Commission has approved.”

Observers of the EU process say it could be at least a year of many meetings and political bargaining before 28 EU governments are likely to agree on a document that can be signed into law.

“Europe has this tendency of debating with ourselves endlessly,” said Hedegaard.

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