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Roadmap to a clean, competitive future By Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action

11/03/2011

This week, the European Commission adopted an energy efficiency plan and a roadmap for how to turn Europe into a low-carbon society by 2050. But why on earth spend time on something that is four decades away when we can barely see the end of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, some may ask?

In fact, there are good reasons to do so and they are not all about some distant future. They are also about jobs. They are about innovation and competitiveness. And they are about reducing our energy bill. Last year, for example, Europe paid $70 billion more on oil imports than the year before. That is almost a third of what all the EU Member States combined spend on research and development. Imagine if Europe relied much more on renewable energy and didn't have to send fortunes to foreign regimes each time the oil prices spike. That is what this package is about.

Or imagine if we could create 300.000 European jobs by investing aggressively in a promising manufacturing sector. Well, actually that is exactly what we have done over the last 5 years with renewable energy. Adding to that come the new jobs in the construction sector caused by the improved energy efficiency standards for buildings and jobs related to the expansion of the energy transmission infrastructure. In total, we could create net 1.5 million additional jobs by 2020, many of which can not be sent abroad because they are about putting up wind turbines and retrofitting buildings, and creating smart electric grids in Europe. That is what this package is about.

Moving towards a cleaner and more climate-friendly society will require massive investments – in the order of 270 billion extra every year. But we will save amounts of the same magnitude on avoided energy imports and health costs. So the core message is this: going low-carbon will not happen at the expense of economic growth. On the contrary, if we take the right decisions now, Europe will be a cleaner, greener and richer society by 2050 than today. We have already shown that this is possible in the past. Over the last two decades our economies have grown by some 40 percent. And in the same period we have managed to cut carbon emissions by 16 percent.

So shaping a clean, climate-friendly society is not a farewell to modern commodities and mobility, city shopping sprees and nice cars. It is about maintaining and improving our quality of life, while avoiding that pollution undermines economic growth and quality of life. It is about building better homes. It is about more intelligent ways of producing, and it is about smarter cities with cleaner air and less pollution, less noise and congestion.

2050 may sound abstract and far away. But the package we have presented is neither science fiction, nor a vague Utopian vision. The European Heads of State and Government have defined the goal: A competitive and climate-friendly Europe by mid century with greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 80-95 percent. What the Commission has now delivered – along with concrete measures – is a robust navigation device that maps out the best way to the destination, based on advanced analysis.

The result of the exercise is clear: we can get to our destination and we can get there on time. But achieving a domestic reduction of 80 percent in the cheapest, most cost-efficient way has some clear political implications.

The first implication could be summarized as "first things first". In some sectors, the technologies need to mature further. For instance in the transport sector, electric cars need to be further commercialized and loading stations must be put up across Europe before we can tap the full potential of these technologies. Other sectors can deliver more in the short term. That goes for instance for the energy sector, which can reduce its carbon pollution substantially for instance through increased use of renewable energy and by the improving transmission network.

The other important implication is about milestones and the speed at which we travel. In order to arrive on time, we need to be half way by 2030 – which means at least 40 percent domestic reductions by then. That may sound very ambitious, but actually we have already reduced by 16 percent. Moreover, moving slower will in fact be more expensive. The logic behind this is that we must move at a pace that ensures steady technological development. If we postpone too long, there will be no incentives to develop the technologies and we would then have to reduce much faster at a later stage – with less affordable technologies available.

The same logic applies to our milestone for 2020. EU has a 20 percent CO2 reduction target in 2020 and a discussion on moving to 30% which is also our offer in the international negotiations. The analysis shows that the cost-efficient reduction level for 2020 is not 20 percent, but at least 25 percent. And the good news is that we can reach such an additional reduction by delivering on the energy efficiency target that was confirmed by European leaders at the Energy Summit in February – with measures that will save money for Member States, companies as well as individual citizens.

The Road Map and the Energy Efficiency Plan provide a pragmatic pathway to a clean, competitive, climate-friendly Europe in the long term and some very concrete actions that will put us on the right track from the beginning.

This integrated way of addressing key societal challenges – where the measures we propose in the short term are connected to a broader, long-term vision – is another example of how the EU delivers concrete value-added for the European citizens. Shaping a new model for intelligent, resource-efficient growth in the 21st century can not be done over night and we have to do it together. With the 2050 roadmap and the energy efficiency plan the Commission has set the course.

Connie Hedegaard

EU Commissioner for Climate Action

Last update: 27/06/2013 | Top