Renewable energy policy success shows need for more ambitious targets

Early indications from EU member states suggest they are well on track to meet and even exceed the targets set out under the EU`s renewable energy legislation. This is good news, not only for EU efforts to reduce emissions and increase our energy independence, but also for the economy.

The EU renewable energy directive sets member states individual targets, with a view to meeting the overall EU target of a 20% renewable energy share by 2020. The initial forecasts submitted by EU member states as to how they will meet their targets are optimistic, with a number of countries expecting to exceed their targets.

This is not surprising and vindicates the Greens` efforts to push for a target of at least 25% in the legislation. Of course, these forecasts must be followed up by the end of June with more detailed national action plans, outlining the measures that will be taken to achieve the targets.

During a tough year for European economies, it seems the renewable energy sector has continued to motor forward. An overall breakdown for the whole sector is due to be published by the wind industry next week, and is expected to show higher than expected growth in renewable energy in Europe in 2009.

We already know that the offshore wind market has blazed a trail, growing by over 50% in 2009. The trend for windpower in Europe is mirrored across the pond in the US, where it grew by almost 40% in 2009.

Clearly, the EU renewables legislation has played a role in this success, acting as a further incentive to continue investment.

This optimistic outlook has clear implications for emissions from the energy sector. It serves as a further reminder that the EU`s overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction target (20% by 2020 from 1990 levels) is woefully unambitious.

The EU already has `achieved` over half of this target (although much of this is down to statistical voodoo - see this study by Ecofys) - this useful converter shows exactly what the target means. There has been a lot of research done that shows how the EU 20% target is not ambitious (the paper above and a paper presented by the EEB being good examples) and will be achieved with little or no effort due to the economic downturn.

There has also been plenty of research showing the benefits - in terms of job creation, for example - of increasing to a higher emissions target. The renewable energy example is a prime example of a sector that has a higher growth potential, as the optimistic prognosis above shows.

It seems that there will be no change in the EU target that will be submitted to the UNFCCC this week as part of the Copenhagen Accord. This represents another missed opportunity to step up the EU emissions target (see our blog).

While the EU should step up to a 30% target without delay, this too would be far from ambitious. With a stronger renewable energy target and a binding energy savings target of 20% by 2020, this emissions target would be easily exceeded. It would also clearly fall far short of the EU`s responsibility if it is serious about limiting warming to below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The EU would need to step up to a 40% reduction target to be consistent with its responsibility under the recommendations outlined by the scientific consensus in the IPCC`s 4th Assessment Report. The incentive to the economy that would be provided by such a target should also not be underestimated.