Renewables target must be aligned with the EU higher climate ambition

Energy transition

The revamped Renewable Energy Directive should set an EU binding renewable energy target of at least 50% by 2030, paving the way towards transition to a 100% renewable energy based system by 2040, argues Veerle Dossche from CAN Europe.

This op. ed. was first published by EU Observer.

With the ‘Fit for 55’ legislative package, the EU intends to update its current energy targets, including the 2030 EU renewable energy target, and bring it in line with the need for higher climate ambition at EU level. The aim of the ‘Fit for 55’ package, which is due in mid-July, is to revise some of EU’s main climate and energy laws, so they can support the delivery of the target of at least 55% net emissions reduction at the end of the decade. While this is a higher level of climate ambition than the previous 40%, the scientific data shows clearly that we have to do far more in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

Despite recently increased commitments from the EU, the US, and others, the UN’s Emissions Gap Report still predicts that current efforts equal a temperature rise of 2.5°C by the end of this century. This is well above the Paris Agreement’s objective. Therefore, what the EU needs to adopt in July is a legislative package that makes it possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. It is the minimum we should be setting out to achieve.

The key role of renewables

Scientific studies prove that, in order to meet this goal, the EU should strive for at least 65% emission reductions by 2030. Renewables play a key role in this plan. Networks of NGOs, city networks, the federation of citizen energy cooperatives and renewable energy associations, informed the European Commission that with the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive we need to increase the EU 2030 renewable energy target in line with higher climate ambition, reintroduce national binding targets and keep the directive focused on renewables under sound sustainability criteria only.
Several energy scenarios have shown that a considerably higher renewables target is within reach, affordable and needed. With the technologies which have already been proven and are being increasingly available to the markets, a key missing element is a stronger EU legislation. Based on these scenarios, the Commission’s package should therefore set an EU binding renewable energy target of at least 50% by 2030, paving the way towards transition to a 100% renewable energy based system by 2040.

Binding national targets and the need for an EU long-term target

In addition to a higher EU 2030 renewable energy target, the “Fit for 55” should reintroduce national binding targets, supported by well-defined policies, which increase predictability for all market participants. The reintroduction of binding national targets is an important element to deliver the overall EU target as it gives more certainty.
To avoid the detrimental impact of stop-start policies, Member States should also engage in a consistent way beyond 2030. The 100% renewable energy target by 2040 is the logical next milestone. The Renewable Energy Directive should be seen as the driver for a comprehensive long-term policy framework, supporting the further deployment and uptake of sustainable renewable energy in various sectors across Europe.

Fossils are not renewables

The revision of the directive should accelerate the use of renewable electricity in buildings, transport, and industry sectors. As some sectors and processes are not easy to electrify, the need for energy carriers with a high energy density will have to be covered by non-fossil gases and liquid synthetic fuels. The scope of the Renewable Energy Directive has to exclusively remain dedicated to sustainable renewables. Therefore its revision should not include any provisions that incentivise fossil-based – so called “low-carbon” fuels, which can be based on fossil or nuclear energy. Such non-renewable fuels should not count towards the EU’s binding 2030 renewable energy target. Broadening the scope of the Directive beyond renewables would be counter-productive, risking to promote the very fossil fuels that renewables should be displacing in the EU’s energy system.

Fast as this development of renewables needs to be, it should also be managed in respect to biodiversity. We need to simplify or reduce administrative procedures which are causing barriers for renewable deployment at national levels, ensuring at the same time cross-compliance with biodiversity legislation.

The decision time

Action in the next ten years will be decisive in reaching goals that are key to avoiding catastrophic consequences due to climate change. The EU has a key role in this process, both as one of the world’s major economies and a driving force for positive change. Meeting and exceeding climate and energy targets is more than achievable. It is a challenging process, yet we have the technologies that make it within reach. At this moment, we need to make the “Fit for 55” package properly tackle the climate crisis with the urgency proven by science and ensure we get EU legislation fit for the 1.5° Paris Agreement’s objective. Supporting strong targets and policies for the fast ramping up of sustainable renewables is a key element of that.