Tag Archives: european union

EU wants to reduce Russian energy dependency. Here’s how they plan to do it

Few places are as exposed as the European Union (EU) to Russia’s oil and gas in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. The EU gets about 40% of its gas from Russia at a cost of over $110 million a day. Moving with a surprising speed, the EU has now introduced a strategy to cut its reliance on this fuel source by two-thirds within a year — and this could mean a lot both economically and environmentally.

Image credit: PxHere.

The REPowerEU plan hopes to make Europe independent of Russian fossil fuels by 2030, placing initial efforts just on gas. The roadmap proposes to find alternative supplies of gas in the next few months, as well as increasing energy efficiency and doubling down on renewable energy sources in the medium to longer term.

“We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us. We need to act now to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices, diversify our gas supply for next winter and accelerate the clean energy transition,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “We’ll work swiftly to implement these ideas.”

The road ahead

The new proposal will make it a legal requirement for EU countries to make sure they have a minimum level of gas storage. The objective is to have gas stocks at 90% capacity by Autumn, up from about 30% now. Discussions are already taking place with existing gas suppliers such as Norway and Algeria to increase flows and compensate for the crackdown on Russian gas. Environmentally, this won’t make a substantial difference as just the source of the gas will end.

The Commission pictures ending reliance on all fossil fuels from Russia “well before” 2030. In the short term, gas would be imported from the US and Africa and some countries might have to increase the use of coal in the months ahead. While this will mean higher carbon emissions, the longer-term goal is a shift to renewable energy — which will make a difference environmentally.

Another area of focus for the EU in the coming months will be higher imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from suppliers including the US, Qatar, and Australia. Germany has already announced plans for two new LNG terminals to increase supplies, which has raised concerns among experts over a longer dependency on fossil fuels.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans asked to “dash into renewable energy at a lightning speed,” as they are cheaper, cleaner, and a potentially endless source of energy. The Russian invasion shows the urgency of accelerating Europe’s energy transition to cleaner energy sources, Timmerman said.

As well as finding new gas supplies, the Commission argued the reliance on Russia will be eased because of new renewable energy projects that will soon come online. Countries should consider using the revenues they raised from the Emissions Trading Scheme, the world’s largest carbon market, to pay for further green energy sources, the Commission said. Solar energy will be a particular point of focus, with a 4-stage plan aimed at delivering 1TW by 2030:

  1. Multiply rooftop PV development through mandatory solar on new buildings, bans on fossil-fuel boilers, and significant investment.  
  2. Facilitate utility-scale development by freezing grid connection fees, and mandating member states to identify suitable solar PV sites, aiming to fast-track developments. 
  3. Pave the way for smart solar and hybrid projects using dedicated funding.  
  4. Accelerate the deployment of EU solar PV manufacturing capacity with€ 1bn. 

 The proposal says renewable energy projects have to be fast-tracked, with a large potential in domestic rooftop solar power. Up to a quarter of the EU’s electricity consumption could be obtained from panels on buildings and farms, the Commission said – also calling for a large increase in the use of biogas, made from agricultural and food waste.

EU leaders will meet in Versailles, France, later this week to discuss the plan, which won’t be cheap and might lead to some dissenting voices. Meanwhile, campaigners are asking governments to ensure the poorest are protected. Europe is already facing an energy poverty crisis and no one should have to choose between heating and heating, the NGO Global Witness said in a statement.

After the US, the European Union has now surpassed 1 million new coronavirus cases daily

The Omicron strain of the coronavirus is spreading quickly around the world. After the US surpassed one million new cases per day earlier this week, now the EU, as well, is passing that unfortunate milestone.

Image credits Path for Europe.

Following the New Year’s weekend, the US on Monday reported 1,082,549 new cases of coronavirus infections inside its borders, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Although the number of cases reported on Mondays is typically higher than those on other days, due to delays in how tallying is processed over the weekend, this still marked a very worrying record. The figure was double that of the previous Monday.

Judging from previous data (leading up to the week ending on December 25th, 2021), the Omicron variant accounts for roughly 60% of these cases.

The European Union, as a whole, also reported passing this milestone yesterday, Wednesday 5th. Countries such as Britain and France have announced record numbers of daily new cases; Britain reached 200,000 on Tuesday, while France reported in excess of 270,000. Both of these figures are higher than any previously-seen number of new daily cases.

According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Cyprus now has the highest infection rate per capita, after reaching a record new 5,457 cases on Tuesday.

As in the US, the more infectious Omicron variant is behind a large portion of the new cases in the EU. Although this strain seems to produce less severe symptoms and generally results in fewer hospitalizations than previous variants, governments are still ill at ease over the growing number of cases. Hospitals and health services are still under immense pressure, and can easily become overwhelmed if a large number of patients seek help at the same time; the high number of infected individuals definitely raises the possibility that this can happen.

But the rampant spread of the virus also raises a chilling possibility: that of mutations taking place. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of this possibility on Tuesday, in response to the numbers reported by the US and of the deteriorating situation in Europe.

“The more Omicron spreads, the more it transmits and the more it replicates, the more likely it is to throw out a new variant,” said WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood in an interview for the AFP. “Now, Omicron is lethal, it can cause death […] maybe a little bit less than Delta, but who’s to say what the next variant might throw out? Even in well-capacitated, sophisticated health systems there are real struggles that are happening at the moment.”

On Tuesday, the British government announced that hospitals have switched to “war footing” due to staff shortages. Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to take measures to address staff shortages in the most heavily affected areas, ranging from drafting medical volunteers to calling for army support.

Australia is also facing a record-high number of new cases, reaching almost 65,000 daily as of Wednesday.

EU unveils sweeping climate plan to drastically reduce CO2 emissions

The European Union announced a set of climate change proposals in which every industry will be forced to accelerate its shift away from fossil fuels in order to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (from 1990 levels). 

Image credit: World Bank

No more diesel cars by 2035

The legislation, presented by the EU’s executive branch (the European Commission) includes a dozen major proposals, ranging from new levies on greenhouse gases to a phase-out of gasoline and diesel cars by 2035. They also involve a revamp of the bloc’s emission trading program, through which companies for the CO2 they emit.

“By acting now we can do things another way… and choose a better, healthier and more prosperous way for the future,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference. “It is our generational task [to secure] the wellbeing of not only our generation, but of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way.”

The aim of the legislation is for the bloc to move away from fossil fuels and take better care of the environment by policy design, rather than being forced into urgent measures at some point in the future. European Executive Vice-President Rans Timmermans said failing to act now would mean “failing our children and grandchildren.”

Considering their implications, the proposals will likely be subject to intense lobbying from both environmental and industry groups as they move through the legislative process over the next year. They will also face resistance because of the very different energy mixes in member countries, from France that heavily relies on nuclear to Poland on coal.  

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government already questioned the plan, saying it threatened to undo its utility price cuts. The EU package includes a regulation that toughens energy taxation rules to discourage fossil fuels and promotes cleaner energy sources. “The choice of tools is untenable and unacceptable,” Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas told reporters. 

But the EU has drawn its line in the sand: emissions must go down, and quick.

The sticky points

One of the most controversial elements of the climate plan is a “carbon border adjustment mechanism,” which would impose duties on foreign companies – increasing the price of certain goods such as steel, aluminum, concrete, and fertilizer. The aim is to ease pressure on EU producers that cut emissions but struggle to compete with importers.

Such a move could be seen as protectionist amid the World Trade Organization rules and could be difficult to justify for the EU, which is known for its strict defense of open trade. Corporate lobby BusinessEurope already denounced the plan, saying it “risks destabilizing the investment outlook” for sectors such as steel, cement, aluminum, fertilizers and electric power “enormously”.

The plan also involves a revamp of the bloc’s emissions trading program, under which companies pay for carbon dioxide they emit, and introduce taxes on shipping and aviation fuels for the first time. The bloc will create a $85 billion fund to compensate those who lose out, with the money coming from the expanded market for carbon emissions.

Yet, for all the organizations who say the plan is too far-fetched, many claim the proposals don’t go far enough. Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg said that unless the EU “tears up” its proposals, “the world will not stand a chance of staying below 1.5ºC of global heating”. Meanwhile, Greenpeace EU Director Jorgo Riss said celebrating the plan would be like “a high-jumper claiming a medal for running under the bar.”

The EU Commission set out in September its plan to reach a 55% emissions reduction by 2030, saying at least 30% of the EU’s long-term budget would be spent on climate-related measures. The targets are part of a global effort to tackle climate change by cutting atmospheric pollution, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

In 2015, countries agreed under the Paris Agreement on climate change to limit temperature increase to 2ºC, aiming at 1.5ºC. Nevertheless, global temperatures have already increase by 1ºC and could reach 3ºC with the current trajectory. More ambitious climate action is urgently needed to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. 

The right to repair: Europe wants a revolution in how electronics are produced and repaired

It’s time to give that old TV or refrigerator a second opportunity, at least that’s what officials in the European Union (EU) believe. The bloc has introduced a new rule through which companies that sell some consumer electronic goods will need to ensure that those appliances can be repaired for up to 10 years – seeking to reduce the large amount of electronic waste that’s produced every year.

Image credit: Flickr / Curtis Palmer

The move is part of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, with the objective of reducing the consumption footprint and doubling the circular material use rate. Instead of products that break down fast and can’t be reused, repaired, or recycled, green products will be the new norm across the member countries of the bloc.

“This is a really big step in the right direction” Daniel Affelt of the environmental group BUND-Berlin, which runs several “repair cafes” that helps people with repairs, told AP. “People want to repair their appliances. When you tell them that there are no spare parts for a device that’s only a couple of years old then they are obviously really frustrated by that.”

Under the new rules, manufacturers in the EU will have to make sure that the parts are available for up to ten years.

Some will only be given to professional repair companies so to ensure the parts are installed correctly. At the same time, new devices will have to include repair manuals and be made in a way that they can be dismantled with conventional tools.

Still, this only applies to washing machines, hairdryers, refrigerators, and TVs. Campaigners want the EU to also consider covering smartphones, laptops, and other consumer electronics. France is already a step ahead, as earlier this year it required manufacturers to include “repairability scores” for electronic goods that indicate how easily a device can be repaired.

“While these new rules are an important step as the first-ever regulations on repair for electronic and electrical devices, they do not mean that we have the right to repair in Europe yet,” Chloé Mikolajczak, a campaigner for Right to Repair Europe, told TechRepublic. She said the rules are good on paper but include loopholes, such as requiring spare parts to be supplied within 15 days.

Environmentalists have long accused manufacturers of designing devices with planned obsolescence, which also acts as a reflection of our consumer culture: we make a lot of products with no intention of them lasting. The circular economy seeks to address this, based on the idea that there should be less waste and products should be designed to last — and should be optimized for a cycle of disassembly and reuse that will make it easier to renew them.

The right to repair would tackle the growing amount of electronic waste generated every year across Europe substantially. Each person is estimated to generate more than 16 kilograms of e-waste every year and about half of it is due to broken household appliances. The EU only recycles about 40% of it and the rest is unsorted, leaving behind large amounts of potentially hazardous, polluting materials.

Outside the EU, other countries are also moving ahead with right-to-repair bills. In the US, for example, several state legislatures have introduced them over the last few years, attracting bipartisan support. California was the most recent case. Still, there’s no nationwide measure in force in the US, which could help move the circular economy even faster.

EU moves to cut carbon emissions 60% by 2030 after vote in Parliament

The European Parliament voted to update the EU’s climate target for 2030, backing a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade, up from the current 40%. Lawmakers passed the proposal by 352 votes to 326, with 18 abstentions, sending the text to the EU Council of Ministers for final approval.

Credit Flickr European ParliamentU

The Parliament’s decision was part of a wider vote on a proposed European Climate Law, which seeks to pass the EU’s goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 into law. Jytte Guteland, the rapporteur on the proposed legislation, celebrated the news on her social media networks.

The European Commission had earlier this year presented a proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, a target that was now increased by the vote. The Commission carried out an impact assessment of its proposal and described it as achievable for all sectors of the economy.

Some lawmakers highlighted their rejection of going beyond the 55%, claiming the approved 60% target would be too expensive to implement for Europe’s industry. Peter Liese, a German lawmaker from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), said the goal was “overambitious”.

“I regret that the majority in the European Parliament did not support the European Commission’s Climate Law proposal but voted for the overambitious 60%,” Liese said on Twitter, claiming the 55% target is the most feasible. “We sincerely dislike [this target] and think it really endangers jobs.”

Environmental campaigners, for their part, described the vote as a victory in the fight against climate change. “The European Parliament is to be applauded for taking a position that is far more progressive than the Commission’s 55% ‘net’ proposal,” said the WWF in a press release.

However, the NGO added that the 60% target for 2030 is still not consistent with the 1.5-2°C target of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015. Environmental organizations such as WWF have called instead for 65% emissions reductions by 2030, as well as a separate target for carbon removal from sinks.

As well as greenlighting the 60% target, European lawmakers also voted in favor of proposals ensuring that each EU member state reaches climate neutrality individually by 2050. The alternative would have seen some EU countries allowed to overshoot the 2050 target provided that others meet it early.

On the other hand, lawmakers rejected the proposal to rely on carbon sinks like forests and grasslands to meet the 2030 climate target. They also voted down an amendment tabled by the EPP that would have included carbon-cutting projects in developing countries in the EU’s climate goals, claiming EU’s climate goals should be met based only on domestic emission cuts.

EU pushes for circular economy to have longer-lasting products

Produce, use, and throw away? No, better reduce, reuse, and recycle, says the EU. The paradigm of the current linear economic model could be coming to an end, replaced by a circular economy, a system that seeks to better use the resources available and reduce their environmental impact.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius. Credit EU

The European Union (EU) wants to move forward in that direction and introduced a new Circular Economy Action Plan, with the objective of reducing the bloc’s consumption footprint and double its circular material use rate. By doing so, the EU’s GDP would increase an additional 0.5% by 2030.

“Only by changing the economic model can we hope for success, ease the pressure on our biodiversity and achieve the 2050 goals on carbon neutrality in the European Union (EU),” explained the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius.

The EU acknowledged that many products are currently being manufactured in such a way that they break down fast and can’t be reused, repaired, or recycle. Instead, green products should be the norm, rewarding manufacturers of products based on their sustainability performance, according to the bloc’s plan.

In order to do that, the bloc wants to push for legislation to ensure the manufacturing of sustainable products in electronics and textiles. They should be designed to last longer, be easier to use, repair, and recycle and incorporate the maximum of recycled materials instead of new ones. Additionally, the EU aims to restrict single-use items, deal with planned obsolescence, and veto the destruction of unsold durable goods. Along these lines, consumers should have information on the life expectancy of the products and to what extent they can be repaired, in order to help them make greener purchases.

The EU also wants to improve the collection and treatment of electronic waste, establish new mandatory requirements for plastics — with special attention to microplastics — and encourage the use of more ecological construction elements and reusable articles that replace cutlery or single-use food packaging.

This will lead to less waste generated and minimize the amount of waste exported by the bloc, according to the plan, which would also include the development of a harmonized model for waste collection and threshing across the Union as well as labeling.

As an example, Sinkevicius said that the EU will “move in the direction of universal chargers“, for laptops, smartphones or tablets, so that when buying a new one it does not need to include a charging device. This will make it unnecessary to extract so many raw materials and boost the secondary market.

The initiative was welcomed by business leaders, grouped under the chamber BusinessEurope. They said in a press release that it’s a “win-win” proposal and that “minimizing the amount of waste and keeping the value of raw materials as long as possible is good for the environment and for companies.”

Group of EU countries demand more ambitious climate commitment

Spain, France, Italy, and nine more EU countries have decided to form a pressure block to try to get Europe to update its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

It’s an opportune moment, just half a year ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of the year.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg in a climate protest. Image Credits: Wikipedia Commons

The EU has already committed to the Paris Agreement as a block, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels. But the 40% target was set in 2014 and many countries understand that six years later there is room to present a more robust objective.

The block of 12 countries asked in a letter to the Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, to expedite the procedures for Brussels to present as soon as possible, and as late in June 2020, the new goal, which must be between 50% and 55% cut.

In the letter, the environment ministers of the 12 countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden) argue that if the EU presents a more ambitious plan other countries will follow the same path. In other words, the European countries want to offer tangible climate leadership — at a time where the climate commitments of the US and China are questionable at best.

“If the fact that the EU goes in front is going to have an effect, then it not only needs to be before the summit, but also well in advance,” Dan Joergensen, Denmark’s climate minister and initiator of the letter, told Reuters.

The letter arrives in an important week for Europe’s position in the fight against climate change. On Wednesday, Timmermans, in charge of climate policies in the EU Commission, is expected to present new legislation for climate change.

The EU Commission and the group of countries are aligned on the need to increase the targets to reach zero net emissions in 2050. But in December, when all EU countries started discussing the new target, a blocking position led by Poland emerged.

Poland, whose electricity mostly comes from coal, finally agreed to set the goal in 2050, although with a footnote that said they are not “in a position at this time” to “ensure the fulfillment of the objective.” That means the negotiation to have a more ambitious goal will likely be a difficult one.

The Paris Agreement, which dates back to 2015, states that the signatory should update its climate goal at some point this year. That process is expected to culminate in the climate summit that will be held in November in Glasgow (United Kingdom). But none of the big economies have updated their goals yet, and almost all countries are failing on their agreed pledges — some are failing spectacularly.

Based on the current climate pledges, the world is set to face global warming between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius, failing to meet the 2 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement. If that happens, the consequences will be devastating for the entire planet — whether we like it or not.

Wind farm.

Europe’s grids will feed primarily from wind farms by 2027, predicts the International Energy Agency

Wind is poised to become the dominant energy source in Europe, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports.

Wind farm.

Image via Pixabay.

Last week, the IEA’s executive director said at the Global Wind Summit that Europe is likely to rely on wind as its primary source of energy by 2027 — and its role in the grid will only increase from then on.

The European Union today draws roughly one-quarter of its energy from nuclear generators. Coal and gas supply a further 20% (one-fifth), with wind generating around 10% of the energy EU countries guzzle up. By 2027, however, the last shall be first, says the IEA.

Forecast: windy

According to its forecasts (document at the end of the article), wind will be the main source of energy for the EU by that year, supplying roughly 23% of total power. Other renewables — such as biomass plants — will contribute around 20%, gas a further 20%, nuclear will fall just shy of 20%, while coal will decline to just about 10%. Solar energy will account for about 6% to 7% in the IEA’s forecasts.

The European Union is already a global leader in wind energy, especially in the offshore wind department. Europe boasts a lot of coasts, and offshore turbines can be larger than their land-locked counterparts. They’re also usually spun by stronger and more consistent winds than the latter. Last year, the EU had 15,780 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind capacity; to reach the IEA’s forecasts, that capacity will have to increase to roughly 200 gigawatts (GW) by 2040, which is quite sizeable.

However, and this is a big “however”, the most exciting thing about the IEA’s forecasts isn’t the wind generation itself — it’s what it would entail. Should their prediction come to pass, the IEA is confident that “ongoing cost declines” associated with wind-generated power would “open prospects for the production of ‘green’ hydrogen” — and green hydrogen has the ability to spark a wide-reaching energy revolution.

Now, the thing about hydrogen today is that it’s mostly produced via natural gas reforming and, because of emissions associated with the production process, it is a net contributor of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. One other way you can produce hydrogen, however, is through water electrolysis — the use of an electrical current to split water molecules into their hydrogen and oxygen components.

In the context of abundant energy supplied by wind farms, all that (green) power could be diverted to electrolysis and jump-start a hydrogen revolution. The drain on the grid could be mitigated by mostly running this process at night when demand for electricity is typically low. An ample and steady supply of green-generated, no-emission fuel could finally help ‘greenify’ a sector that’s traditionally resisted attempts to de-couple from fossil fuels: transportation.

“Decarbonization efforts are disproportionally focused on the power sector […] and not enough on heat and transport,” the IEA’s slides said. The agency noted that the electricity sector in the EU “accounts for just 20 percent of energy use.”

The transport sector has been difficult to decarbonize because it’s highly decentralized, and any real effort would have to draw heavily on subsidies and tax breaks (for which political will is very often lacking). But Europe does seem intent on pursuing decarbonization — Germany recently put the world’s first hydrogen-powered train in service. Green hydrogen should definitely help in that regard.

Gone with the wind

With great renewable generation also comes great responsibility to maintain grid integrity, however. There are concerns that solar and wind energy, being more fickle than fossil fuels, could impart significant instability to the grid after prolonged periods without wind or sun. In order to determine how much effort each country needs to put into protecting their grids, the IEA splits them up into distinct ‘phases’ — each depending on how much wind and solar energy goes into a country’s grid makeup.

Phase 1 and Phase 2 countries have so little wind or solar power that they don’t really need to take any precautionary steps. The US, according to the IEA, is currently a Phase 2 country.

Phase 3 countries need to start making significant investments in complementary tech and infrastructure — such as battery storage, flexible power plants, demand management solutions, and advanced grid technology. The UK, Italy, and Germany are examples of Phase 3 countries.

Topping off the chart, Phase 4 countries (like Ireland and Denmark) rely so heavily on solar and wind energy that maintaining grid stability becomes both very challenging and very important. Such countries need to deploy “advanced technologies to ensure grid reliability,” the IEA says.

“As shares of variable renewables rise, more flexible power systems and appropriate market design will be needed for reliable and cost-effective system integration,” the agency writes.

Needless to say, should the EU really draw primarily on renewables by 2027, it will have to invest heavily in such technology and safety systems. GreenTechMedia, however, notes that it’s unclear whether the IEA’s forecast will stay true should Britain actually exit from the European Union. The United Kingdom is currently one of the EU’s major contributors to offshore wind numbers.

The IEA’s forecasts can be seen here (PDF document).

European Union considers total ban on plastic straws and cutlery

The European Union (EU) wants to take its war on plastic to the next stage: the European Commission has recently proposed a total ban on almost all single-use plastic products in a bid to reduce Europe’s carbon emissions and marine litter.

This can’t possibly be the legacy we want to leave behind.

Plastic is a massive problem — sure, it was amazing when it was first developed (and it still is), but there’s just too much of it, and we’re clearly not using and recycling it responsibly. Recent studies have found that plastics are ubiquitous in the world’s oceans, slowly killing marine wildlife. There are an estimated 5 trillion plastic pieces in the oceans and a truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the oceans every minute. This is clearly not sustainable and has to change as soon as possible. Some countries have already implemented laudable recycling systems, but that can only accomplish so much. At the end of the day, there’s no going around it: we need to reduce our plastic consumption, and we need to do it quickly.

A good place to start is single-use plastic. We don’t really need it, we can’t really recycle it, and by definition, it’s short-lived. The European Commission has recently proposed a total ban on some single-use plastic products: plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons. They also want to drastically reduce the use of plastic food containers and drink cups by implementing a mandatory tax on them.

“Plastic can be fantastic but we need to use it more responsibly,” Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said in a statement. “Today’s proposals will help business and consumers to move towards sustainable alternatives.”

Under the Commission’s proposal, all the member states (representing over 500 million people) will have to collect 90% of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025, while producers will also have to chip in by paying some of the waste disposal costs. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said:

“Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food. Today’s proposals will reduce single-use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favorite products.”

The EU says that implementing these measures as soon as possible will also yield economic benefits. The entire world is moving in this direction, though some are moving slower than others, so having an early bird approach could offer a competitive advantage. This will also offer incentives to develop innovative, sustainable recycling or waste management solutions.

This is just a proposal for now. It remains to be seen whether it will be implemented or not, but it’s certainly a big step in the right direction.

30% of the European Union’s electricity came from renewables in 2017

In the year 2000, the European Union produced 12% of its energy from renewable sources. Now, that number has increased to over 30%.

Cows peacefully grazing next to wind turbines in Germany. Image in public domain.

Even if you don’t live in Europe, you’re probably aware of how strongly the EU has pushed renewable energy through policy. The EU’s Renewable energy directive sets a binding target of 20% for all individual countries, but overall, the Union has already reached and surpassed that goal. A new report published by think tanks Sandbag and Agora Energiewende show that last year, almost a third of all electricity in the EU came from renewables, and if current trends continue, the EU will generate 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

Since hydropower was mostly maxed out on the continent, the vast majority of the growth is represented by solar and wind energy. Together with biomass, these renewable sources produced 20.9% of all electricity in the EU, surpassing the 20.6% produced by coal and 19.7% by natural gas. Hydropower provided an additional 10.9% in 2017. You could say that renewable sources have become the continent’s largest energy provider.

Impressively, much of this growth happened in 2017. The report reads:

“They rose by 12% in 2017 to 679 Terawatt hours, putting wind, solar and biomass above coal generation for the first time. This is incredible progress, considering just five years ago, coal generation was more than twice that of wind, solar and biomass.”

However, not everything is rosy in the European Union. For starters, the growth of renewables is highly uneven. While some eastern countries like Romania have exhibited significant progress in their renewable energy production, most of the progress was provided by two countries. Germany and the UK alone accounted for 56% of the EU’s overall growth in renewables in the past three years, greatly outpacing the other countries’ efforts. Furthermore, overall CO2 emissions have slightly increased, largely fueled by steel production and the fact that 2017 saw a decrease in nuclear power and low production from hydro (due to natural circumstances). The problem is that even though clean energy sources increased significantly in recent years, they didn’t grow fast enough to offset these changes.

The report concludes that in 2018, Europe will likely generate a third of its energy from renewables. Fossil fuels continue their steady decline, but it remains to be seen whether this decline will happen fast enough.

“The trend for fossil generation is clearly down, but the scale of the fall, and whether hard coal or gas falls most, are all yet to be determined. We make an optimistic forecast that fossil generation will fall by 16% in 2020. This assumes constant electricity consumption and an aggressive renewables build rate.”

Meanwhile, in the US, renewable energy amounts to 12.2 % of total primary energy consumption, with hydropower still remaining the largest producer of renewable electricity in the country. Wind and solar energy have also increased significantly in the US in recent years.

Jean Claude Juncker.

There will be no renegotiation of the Paris agreement, EU Parliament tells Trump

The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Accord for America’s sake, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday while addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Jean Claude Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker during the plenary session week 29 of the EU Parliament, Strasbourg, in 2014.
Image credits Euractiv / Flickr.

In what was probably his most disappointing choice both internally and internationally, US President Donald Trump announced that the land of the free would join hands with like-minded Syria and Nicaragua — which actually rejected the Paris Agreement because it wasn’t ambitious enough– and withdraw from the Paris Accord. His long-term strategy, with ample air quotes, of course, was to force a renegotiation of what he feels are unfair terms of the accord — i.e. “China stealing our jobs, the world is treating the US unfairly,” hurr durr.

Which of course isn’t the case. Still, what’s done is done but it seems that the president overplayed his hand, as the EU categorically refuses any re-negotiation of the Paris climate agreement. Speaking to the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker said that it took 20 years of work putting the accord together and mustering everybody under its banner — and that it’s time for implementation, not further talks. Basically, everyone knows what must be done and it’s time to get to it.

Not only is the US’ announced withdrawal a sad event, he continued, but also “a sign of abdication from common action in dealing with the fate of our planet”. In the end, Juncker believes that the US jumping ship won’t break the Agreement — rather, it will strengthen the remaining countries’ commitment and cooperation towards the full provisions agreed on in Paris. As one of the (if not the) most powerful single technological, political, and economic entity still in the accord after the US’ withdrawal, the bloc made its position clear on the issue for all other signatories to rally around:

“The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement,” Mr Juncker said according to the BBC.

“The 29 articles of the agreement must be implemented and not renegotiated. Climate action does not need more distractions. We have spent 20 years negotiating. Now it is the time for action. Now it is the time for implementation.”

Other officials echoed Mr. Juncker’s sentiments. The president of the Marshall Island, Hilda Heine, also addressed the Parliament and stressed the importance of keeping course, saying the agreements set in the Paris Accord are as good as they get and that “we don’t have the luxury of more time”. She added that the three years’ time before the US officially pulls out of the Accord should be used to convince President Trump of what’s at stake and the importance of climate action, and that Europe should set even higher goals for itself in the light of the withdrawal by adopting five-year targets instead of the current 10-year plans.

The EU Parliament also voted by a huge majority in favor of binding national emission-cutting targets in areas including transport, agriculture, and waste management on Wednesday. These areas are not covered by Europe’s emissions trading scheme and will further the Union’s efforts of cutting emissions down by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

All in all, Trump’s US finds itself more and more disconnected, furiously brandishing coal and oil despite huge internal dissent and as the rest of the world looks towards stronger climate action and green growth. The EU’s Parliament stance on the issue is crystal clear: we will keep our word given freely in Paris, with or without the US by our side.

Europe has to shut down all of its coal-fired plants by 2030 to meet its Paris Agreement pledge

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If we’re to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius per the Paris Agreement, a massive paradigm shift in how we source our energy has to take place. By some accounts, the world is already one degree Celsius warmer than in the pre-Industrial Age so the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy has to be made much faster. In Europe, a new study has identified phasing out coal-fired plants as the most cost effective and overall efficient measure for the union to meet its Paris Agreement goals. This phaseout should not happen later than 2030 — a highly ambitious target, considering the old continent is still highly dependent on coal for its energy and coal imports are on the rise.

Per its submitted intended contribution to the Paris Agreement, the EU has pledged at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Right now, the sum of all the pledges (Nationally Determined Contributions – NDCs) doesn’t even come close to averting two degrees warming, let alone 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement parties will meet every five years to set even more ambitious targets, or that’s the plan, but bearing this in mind what kind of action would be required to meet the agreement’s intended goal?

In Europe at least, phasing out coal seems like the most effective solution — that’s not to say, of course, that it’s an accessible one.

https://climateanalytics.carto.com/builder/639b754a-dcd1-11e6-810c-0e98b61680bf/embed

According to Climate Analytics, the EU has a total budget for coal-based power generation of 6.5 billion tons of CO2. Anything above this budget results in a sort of carbon deficit which will make it almost impossible for the union to meet its climate targets. Right now, the annual CO2 emissions of coal-fired power plants in the EU is 0.8 billion tons, meaning the European Union has only eight years left in its carbon budget per business as usual.

There are 315 power plants currently active in the EU. To meet its goals, the EU would have to shut down 25 percent of these by 2020, 47 percent by 2025 and completely phase out coal power plants by 2031, a Climate Analytics report concludes.

“Not only would existing coal plants exceed the EU’s emissions budget, but the eleven planned and announced plants would raise EU emissions to almost twice the levels required to keep warming to the Paris Agreement’s long term temperature goal,” said Dr Michiel Schaeffer, Climate Analytics Science Director.

This highly ambitious target could be achieved by trading emissions, drastically increasing the share of renewable energy, and by providing a more investor-friendly framework.

“The challenge for Europe now is to capitalize on its massive investments in climate policy, to seize the opportunities created by a coal phase out, so that all European regions benefit from this,” says Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

Our analysis shows that these power plants will need to be shut down long before the end of their economic lifetime in order to stay within the climate goals set at the Paris Agreement,” Niklas Roming, one of the report’s authors, said.

Though some nations in the block have made fantastic progress, like Scottland or Denmark, Europe is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. These accounted for 73 percent of all the energy produced in the EU in 2015, down from 83 percent in 1990. But coal use, which is the ‘dirtiest’ energy source, has dropped immensely which lends reason to be optimistic. In 2015, gross inland consumption of hard coal in the EU-28 reached its lowest level at 269 Mt, 47 % less than in 1990, according to Eurostat.

The report outlines two possible pathways showing how the EU could achieve a complete coal phase-out: market and regulator perspective. In the market perspective, the economic value of the plant is prioritised over its emissions intensity but even in this scenario, coal should become phased out by 2030. The date each specific plant goes offline differs significantly between the two approaches, however.

The report outlines two possible pathways showing how the EU could achieve a complete coal phase-out: market and regulator perspective. In the market perspective, the economic value of the plant is prioritised over its emissions intensity but even in this scenario, coal should become phased out by 2030. The date each specific plant goes offline differs significantly between the two approaches, however. Credit: Climate Analytics.

Already, some countries EU countries are seriously considering phasing out coal. The UK, which is still technically an EU member, announced it would replace all its coal-fired plants with gas-fired ones by 2025 while Finland said it would outright ban coal use by 2030. Scotland, a country that aims to become 100% renewable energy powered by 2020, closed its last coal-fired plant in 2016 after 115 years of operation.

The bulk of termination, however, would need to occur in Germany and Poland, where half of the EU’s active coal-fired power plants can be found. Together, the two countries also account for half of the union’s CO2 emissions. Germany announced it would shut down several coal-fired plants but critics cautioned it’s not nearly enough.

In Poland, the situation is a lot more complicated. While its neighbors are starting to shut down coal plants, Poland seems to embrace them. “Building more efficient coal power plants will get us better results in cutting CO2 emissions than building renewable energy sources like wind or solar,” says Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski, a member of the Law and Justice party. If you look at how much coal Poland consumes, it looks like an addict. About 90% of the country’s electricity comes from coal and new plants are considered for construction. So Poland will be a huge nut to crack if the EU has any chance of meeting its intended climate goals.

“While coal provides 85% of Poland’s electricity it is facing growing extraction costs, dwindling reserves and increased competition from renewables, as well as large environmental and health impacts, the Polish government is still favouring coal as the future mainstay of Polish electricity supply. Implementing the Paris Agreement means that Poland cannot go ahead with its plans for new coal plants, and instead needs to start planning for a phase out,” says Dr. Andrzej Ancygier, a Climate Analytics scientist.

“The necessary switch away from coal in Poland can have positive socio-economic implications. The alternatives in the renewable energy area and energy efficiency will produce large social, economic and environmental benefits that will be durable and lasting for the longer term. The European Union level policy approaches need to acknowledge these issues and ensure that adequate resources are provided for the transformation in Poland. In particular EU policies need to assist in developing structural alternatives and avoid structural breaks that would have negative socio-economic implications for some regions and create sustainable job opportunities,” he added.

Credit: Miami European Center.

For the first time since the 07-08 financial crisis, the economy in all EU countries is growing. Even Greece!

Credit: Miami European Center.

Credit: Miami European Center.

The European Union is going through its toughest break since its inception. Populist propaganda is sweeping the union threatening it with disintegration, the effects of which can be clearly seen in places like Hungary, Poland and, most notably, the UK, which voted to leave the EU by referendum. Immigrants, lack of jobs, and a poor financial situation were some of the ammunition used by conservative and right-wing groups seeking to discredit the EU Commission as a trove of worthless bureaucrats so they can gain power — preferably without the EU having a pesky hand in the affairs of the state through occult regulation.

This anti-EU sentiment is gaining steam, most notably in the past year. But the same year of 2016 saw unprecedented economic growth in the union across all member states since the dire 07-08 financial crisis. That’s in every EU country, from Portugal to Romania, and from Sweden to Italy. And yes, even Greece too!

The graph below put together by QZ says it all.

What’s more, the EU Commission forecasts economic growth — again, across all members states — for 2017 and 2018. The Commission expects 1.8 percent growth across the whole of the EU for 2017 and 2018. Inflation is forecast to rise from 0.3% in 2016 to 1.8% in 2017 and 1.7% in 2018, according to the same report, as the past drop of energy prices has recently given way to an increase. The public deficit for the euro area is expected to decline from 1.7% of GDP last year to 1.4% in 2017 and 2018.

“Real GDP in the euro area has grown for 15 consecutive quarters, employment is growing at a robust pace and unemployment continues to fall, although it remains above pre-crisis levels. Private consumption is still the engine of the recovery. Investment growth continues but remains subdued,” according to the EU Commission’s Winter 2017 Economic Forecast.

This report, however, is marked by higher the usual uncertainty “due to the still-to-be-clarified intentions of the new administration of the United States in key policy areas,”  the imminent elections across many member states and the upcoming “Article 50” negotiations with the UK.

By all means, it seems the EU is doing very well nowadays. The challenge now is to make sure this wealth is distributed more evenly across EU states and all segments of society. If people can’t feel the economic growth, this will do nothing but amplify the populist rhetoric.

Solar-and-Wind-537x358

EU Meeting underway in Brussels hints of Divided Interests

European Union leaders are currently meeting in Brussels to discuss the terms under which the Union will set its 2030 energy targets. Right now on the table, the plan is to cut CO2 emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by raising energy efficiency and the renewable energy slice. Such a convention is never without compromise, however. Some states have difficulties adhering to the proposed targets and demand flexibility. While talks go on through the night, we’re keen on hearing what the final agreement will look like in the morning.

The Union’s Carbon Target

Solar-and-Wind-537x358

Image: Inhabitat

Right now, global CO2 levels sit at 400 parts per million or enough to cause a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise in the next one hundred years, according to climate models. This warming will have significant consequences for the environment, economy and life, human or otherwise. The EU plans on tackling global warming by drastically reducing its CO2 emissions in the next 15 years, but will this sort of measure bear fruit? One can only remember the Kyoto protocol and the disappointing failure the followed. Granted, this time is different. We’re talking about the EU, not an United Nations agreement. The Union is a lot better at communicating and enforcing policies between member states, so there is still hope yet.

“It will not be easy to reach an accord, many countries have energy problems, and some have re-opened coal mines,” French energy minister Segolene Royale told lawmakers in Paris yesterday. “But I think we will have the wisdom, the strength, and the sense of responsibility to reach an accord.”

The target doesn’t stand that well with many developing countries in the EU, particularly eastern Europe. Poland relies on burning coal to meet 90% of its energy needs and if the policy were to come into effect it would ruin the country’s economy, most felt by the Polish citizens themselves. The country’s new Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz has made it clear she will use her veto if there is no compromise.

“This issue actually concerns all Poles, because everyone uses electricity,” said Mrs Kopacz, speaking to reporters last week.

“That is why, if our conditions are not satisfied, I will have to make a radical move, even though this will be my first summit.”

Efficiency and renewable energy – the key drivers to cut CO2

energy-efficiency-image

Image: Columbia University

A leaked draft of the proposals set on the table in Brussels today suggests that  Poland’s concerns could be assuaged by a plan to give poorer countries 10% of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) allowances. These could then be sold by Poland on the carbon market to pay for much needed energy infrastructure changes. Other angry members are Spain and Portugal who feel the terms are unjust. Both countries produce vasts amounts of energy from renewable energy and often times in surplus. What upsets them is the EU’s reluctance to make the legal steps to connect the continent’s electricity grids. In effect, Spain and Portugal wish for a climate package to include a clause forcing countries to build interconnectors, meaning that every nation should be able to export at least 15 per cent of its generational capacity. The Irish are asking that the country’s ability to soak up extra carbon in bogland and forest should be taken into account when calculating emissions. As you can notice, there’s a great deal of interests than need to be managed.

Whatever’s the case, most experts agree that the deal will go through. It’s the fine details that remain to be arranged, most notably energy efficiency and renewable targets. For instance, the European Commission has proposed that a 30% target for energy savings and a 27% target for green power. There’s talk about a 27% goal for efficiency too, but while this difference might not seem like much, make no mistake – it is. A 25% target on efficiency would reduce EU gas imports by just 9% – but increasing the target to 30% would see the same imports drop by over a fifth!

“I cannot conceal that we’re facing extremely difficult negotiations and it’s very uncertain if we’ll make a deal,” Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt told lawmakers in Copenhagen before the summit. “The countries are wide apart and we face major obstacles on setting targets, distributing burdens and renewing our energy infrastructure and efficiency.”

ZME Science will keep you updated on future developments.