Reducing energy consumption is the most immediate and cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure security of energy supply, thereby reducing import dependency and associated foreign policy issues. Finding ways to streamline energy use also has great potential to enhance industrial competitiveness, to create millions of jobs, reduce energy poverty and increase comfort levels. ?
Meeting the EU’s target to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 will depend upon lowering our energy use. So too will the target to increase the share of final energy demand met by renewable energy sources by 20% by 2020 : the higher energy demand is, the more challenging this requirement becomes. Reversing the trend to increasing energy demand will also provide us with the time needed to develop new renewable sources to maturity, avoiding lock-in to unsustainable energy sources like coal and nuclear.
Energy use can be lowered by both increasing technological efficiency, for example of buildings and appliances, and by structural and behavioural changes. The EU has plenty of scope to make such reductions: a recent study undertaken for the European Commission estimates the technical potential in the EU27 to be 336 Mtoe or 29% reduction in final energy use compared to a business as usual baseline (“Study on the Energy Savings Potentials in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and EEA Countries – Final Report”, Fraunhofer ISI, 2009).
In March 2007 EU Heads of State endorsed an EU-wide target to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020; a goal reiterated in a Communication issued by the European Commission in November 2008. This is often referred to as the EU’s energy efficiency target, although in fact it refers to energy savings.
This is an important distinction. We need to undergo a shift from merely trying to maximize efficiency, to genuinely trying to reduce energy use. Our aim needs to be to do the same (or more) with less energy, rather than more with the same. Only with this mindset will we succeed in meeting our emissions and renewable energy targets, addressing the multitude of other energy and resource use problems we face, and ultimately in avoiding dangerous climate change. Indeed there is a great deal of evidence that more considered and rational use of these resources may also help us to become a happier, healthier society.
In contrast to the EU’s 2020 targets for emissions reductions and renewable energy use, the energy saving target is currently non-binding. This is a symptom of a larger problem, which is that despite representing the low-hanging fruit of climate and energy policy, energy saving tends to receive much more lip service than real action. There is no certainty existing legislation will add up to the 20% target : important gaps exist in legislative coverage, much of the existing legislation is unambitious, and implementation and financing remain are major problems.?
Having had no dedicated capacity on energy issues for some years, since August 2009 CAN-Europe has begun building up its work in this area. Fraing and enshrining an appropriate energy saving target will be a key goal during 2010. The 2006 Energy Efficiency Action Plan is due to be revised by the end of 2009, and will provide an initial focus for this work. Thereafter, in addition to the specific energy conservation legislative programme which follows from the Plan, it is likely that 2010 will see post-Copenhagen reviews of the ETS and Effort Sharing agreement, with a probable increase in the EU's overall emissions reduction target. CAN-Europe will seek to ensure that effective coherence is found between all these aspects of European climate and energy policy.