Where is Europe on its way to 100% Renewable Energy?

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How do you know that the world is changing? The following facts might give you an indication: Renewable energy broke another record last year, accounting for over 60% of net addition to the world’s power capacity, providing more than 19% of the global final energy consumption (REN21 Renewables 2015 Global Status Report). Since 2000, renewable energy capacity has grown 120% (IRENA) and the number of countries with renewable energy targets and policies increased again in 2014: At least 164 countries have renewable energy targets, and an estimated 145 countries have renewable energy support policies in place. World leaders, including the G7 and Pope Francis call for a phase out of fossil fuels and the divestment movement is growing almost on a daily basis. While this is already great news, you see even stronger evidences of change when looking at the local level: Hundreds of local governments across the world have 100% renewable energy or electricity targets in place, with many municipalities already achieving such targets. The leaders of this local movement are mainly European cities and municipalities.

But what is Europe`s role in this growing market globally?

From the global perspective, however, Europe is falling behind. In fact, recent analyses of IRENA and REN21 have shown that the former pioneer of the ‘third industrial revolution’ (Jeremy Rifkin) is being overtaken particularly by countries in Asia and South America. Leading countries for investments in renewable energy are primarily non-EU countries, with Germany and UK being the exception. Renewable energy employment declined in the EU from 1,25 million (in 2013) to 1.2 million (in 2014), mainly due to sharp decrease in overall investment as well as adverse policy conditions.

This shows that there is a huge gap between official claims and reality. The European Union’s aim is to make its economy and energy system more competitive, secure and sustainable and President Juncker wants Europe’s Energy Union to become the world number one in renewable energies. So the question remains:

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EU Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete and MEP Peter Liese at the Lunch Debate hosted by the World Future Council

How to put the EU back on track for 100% RE?

At a lunch debate, hosted by the World Future Council and Member of the European Parliament Peter Liese last week, parliamentarians from across Europe with different party background, EU Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete as well as several assistants of MEPs discussed opportunities for the European Union to move towards 100% Renewable Energy. The key question was how to build a strong and reliable framework to upscale the share of renewable energy between 2020 and 2030. Since we agreed upon the Chatham House rules[1] for this event, I cannot expose any details or quote from this 2 hours conversation. However, it is worth mentioning that legislators showed a vital interest in the subject and that there was a great agreement among them that the current renewable energy and energy efficiency targets are insufficient in several ways: They are too weak in numbers, non-binding and not broken down for each member state.

Some of the issued raised by the participants:

  • While the Renewable Energy Progress Report by the EU Commission indicates that most countries will meet the 2020 targets, legislators have to ensure that they are fully implemented in the next 5 years.
  • The Parliament and the Commission must jointly develop a robust and reliable 2030 governance framework to enable Member States to raise the level of ambition on RE and Energy Efficiency targets.
  • As the Juncker plan offers a great platform to link RE and competitiveness, the EU must define how it wants to become number one in Renewable Energy.
  • The role of Renewable Energy must be strengthened in the Energy Union concept. In fact, the Energy Union must be a manifesto of EU`s long-term vision to decarbonize and become the world`s RE leader.
  • There is an understanding among legislators that more ambition is needed from the EU to align its policy framework to the below 2° C trajectory and to reach an adequate agreement in Paris.

So while Europe lacks behind in catching up with world’s number one market, it seems to me that the importance of the renewable energy agenda in Europe is well understood. Although legislators have a lot of homework for the coming 12 months to put the EU back on track for the future we want, participants at the lunch debate demonstrated great political will to take leadership on the crucial questions. We must now strengthen these efforts, back them with the necessary public support and continue to provide platforms for an inclusive policy dialogue.

 

This Lunch Debate was hosted as part of the 100% RE Programme of the World Future Council. The aim is to build capacity among parliamentarians and facilitate policy dialogue on exemplary policies for 100% RE. The Lunch Debate was the follow up on a Parliamentary Hearing on Building Political Will for 100% RE and a Study Tour for MEPs to the Canary Island El Hierro.

 

[1] Chatham House Rules: “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Friday, June 26th, 2015