The European Commission pushes ahead with climate neutrality targets, towards increased and greener growth

When the Green Deal was presented at the end of 2019, the newly elected Commission was already looking to increase the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets for 2030 to ensure that climate neutrality by 2050 would be actually feasible and would not require extreme climate action measures in the 20-year window between 2030 and 2050. Almost one year later, on September 17th, the Commission has finally proposed a new intermediate target of 55% GHG reductions by 2030 (based on 1990 levels), significantly more ambitious than the previous target of 40%. This announcement followed a thorough impact assessment by the Commission serving to assess the economic and technical feasibility of increased targets, which should have assuaged the concerns of more fossil-dependent countries in the EU, fearing for their economy.

Only now, a new crisis has come around to fuel this debate. With the economic standstill provoked by the Covid19 crisis, some stakeholders have suggested postponing the Green Deal and its actions in order to secure the health of the EU economy before moving on with climate action. But this position has been counterbalanced by numerous other stakeholders who have highlighted the recovery potential of the green economy.

Electrical contractors are among these stakeholders who know that the best way to recover is with a green recovery, by investing in renewables, energy efficiency and electrification. In our sector, involved in all these areas, and that is struggling to answer a growing demand, it is clear that there is job and economic potential in a green recovery. EuropeOn has been striving to bring this rationale to policymakers as they formulate their responses to the crisis. This is why we co-signed MEP Pascal Canfin’s Call for Mobilisation back in April, which gathered support from 270 policymakers, CEOs, NGOs, associations and so on

Fortunately, the Commission seems to be heading in the right direction with this latest announcement. The tentative 55% GHG reduction target has been upheld and is framed as a solution to the severe economic downturn. Actually, the need for an unprecedented economic response that is required to face such a crisis, offered an unexpected opportunity to briskly accelerate the energy transition. Unmatched levels of private and public capital will now be mobilised by governments to kickstart their economies, which, building on the momentum of the Green Deal, could be funnelled towards green and sustainable investments. And lower emission targets, the Commission argues, will come with co-benefits such as health, air quality, environmental protection, or long-term competitiveness and resilience for the EU economy.

This new target will of course have to be supported by an increase in the matching sub-targets, and this is where electrical contractors come into play.

Electrical contractors can and should feel concerned by this announcement. They have the responsibility to carry out a significant portion of the actual work required to meet this objective. As electrification has been upheld as the most suitable option for many aspects of the energy transition, their skills and electricity know-how will underpin the deployment of climate-mitigating technologies. Additionally, they have always worked closely with end-users, during home visits and providing on-site advice, and have a network of trusting customers, who need to get on board with the energy transition to make it just and successful.

Indeed, the Commission has put certain emphasis on citizens and consumers in this context and is counting on renewable energy communities and self-consumption models to stimulate the uptake of distributed renewable generation and consumption. Renewables will have to double by 2030, going from 32% in the EU energy mix to 65%. This is the logical starting point of any climate or energy plan and will be followed by efforts increasing demand for renewables in end-use sectors.  The official communication explains that:

Renewables will lead to a high degree of decentralisation providing opportunities for consumers to get engaged, for prosumers to generate, use and share energy themselves, and for local and notably rural communities to encourage local investments in renewables. It will also trigger new employment locally”.

But for consumers to become prosumers and to give a bottom-up boost to the energy transition, buildings and transport also have to be addressed by following an integrated approach.

Buildings should be addressed head on as they are responsible for 36% of the EU’s emissions. This will happen through the long-awaited Renovation Wave (expected for 14/10), which should go beyond the traditional building envelope and encompass on-site renewables, also to power heating and cooling, smart systems or EV charging. Fortunately, the Commission also plans to address the notoriously lacking skills needs of the renovations sector, in a way that hopefully aims to promote future-proof training addressing both green and digital skills at the same time.

The EU Emissions Trading System is another option on the table to address the carbon footprint of buildings, by including mainly heating in the system, although it still remains to be seen if this is feasible and if the Member States will go for it.

Transport has the lowest shares of renewable energy (6% in 2015) and will have to introduce drastic changes to integrate more, which comes on top of the need to simply cut emissions from this sector. In particular, Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson confirmed that the Commission is in favour of achieving a share of 24% of renewables in transport by 2030. And this is where electro-mobility is unrivalled. EVs are the best option to absorb large shares of renewable electricity, and this can be done with public chargers, integrating centrally produced renewables via the grid, or with private chargers, integrating distributed renewables such as rooftop PV. Not only does this support the scale-up of renewable electricity generation but is also drastically reduced emissions from road transport, bringing them to zero.

The Commission has recognised the role of electrification in this context and will pursue this in the coming months, including through the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, expected in early 2021.