Action concerning climate change plays a central role in the package proposed by the Commission, including an EU objective to achieve a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries by 2020 compared to 1990 in international negotiations. The Commission has also set the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50% against a 1990 baseline by 2050 globally. This would imply reductions in industrialised countries of 60-80% by 2050. To assist the EU in these proposed objectives, the Commission has, in its Renewable Energy Roadmap published as part of the Communication package, proposed a binding target of increasing the level of renewable energy in the EU’s overall mix from less than 7% today to 20% by 2020. It wants to assess targets beyond 2020 in light of technological progress made from time to time.

Increased spending for energy research

Under the seventh Framework Research Programme, which is financed and run by the European Union, annual spending on energy research over the next seven years at EU level is set to increase by 50%. However, the Commission has already acknowledged that this may not be enough to meet the costs of the research investment needed in the European energy sector and that Member States as well as the private sector would have to follow suit in their support for energy research efforts.

Carbon capture and storage

To encourage progress in the area of carbon capture and design, the Commission will this year begin working on a mechanism to stimulate the construction and operation by 2015 of up to 12 large scale demonstration projects of sustainable fossil fuels technologies in commercial power generation in the European Union. The Commission will also work towards providing a clear perspective when coal- and gas-fired plants will need to install C02 capture and storage as a matter of course. It is likely that this requirement will be enshrined on EU law by 2020, when all new coal-fired plants will need to install C02 capture and storage. However, given the current state of information and technological progress in this area, the Commission has not yet reached a final view on the timing.

New nuclear

The Commission re-affirmed and acknowledged that the energy mix on which each of the 27 Member States relies for its energy supply is a matter for that Member States. At the same time, the Commission emphasised that if Member States chose not to rely on nuclear energy for their energy needs, they would need to introduce other low-carbon energy sources for electricity production, as the EU would otherwise fall short of its greenhouse gas emission targets.

The Energy Observatory

Interestingly, the package announced by the Commission as part of the Communication saw the resurrection of the idea of an “Energy Observatory” to monitor developments in the energy market. The concept first saw light of day in 2004 as part of the Commission’s proposal for the Directive on Security of Supply.5 At the time, the idea was rejected by Member States as incompatible with the principles of subsidiarity and as just an additional layer of European administration.

Under the new proposal, the Energy Observatory is intended to carry out “core functions regarding Europe’s energy demand and supply, notably increasing transparency regarding the future investment needs in the EU for electricity and gas infrastructure and generation facilities”6. The Commission is working on the scope of the specific responsibilities of the Energy Observatory intends to propose a legal base for financing its activities later in the year.