The 4th February Energy and Innovation Summit was followed up today by another Council meeting, this time of Europe's Energy Ministers. Once again, we are left with the feeling that unless our governments and the European institutions stop playing their favourite games of 'pass the parcel' and 'wait and see', we may well fail to realise the full benefits of energy efficiency and savings. To the detriment of Europe's energy security, its economic competitiveness, the wellbeing of its citizens, and its climate commitments.
The section on Energy Efficiency in today's Conclusions makes the curious assertion that "The setting of any additional targets it not justified at present". It also explicitly seeks to avoid sectoral targets in any measures to address buildings, transport and industry. As per the Conclusions of 4 February, there is merely a weak reference to a review in 2013 - a date stranded in the sea of irrelevance as regards the foreseen developments in energy efficiency policy.
We are somewhat bemused as to what can possibly be the basis of this non-justification of any additional targets. Could it be the fact that we are already manifestly on track to meet the EU's target to save 20% of its primary energy consumption by 2020? Well, not really, considering that the impact assessment of the forthcoming new Energy Efficiency Plan estimates energy use by 2020 to be a mere 9% below business as usual projections, based on current progress.
Could it then be the fact that Member States have indicated that they have sufficient ambition level of their own accord to tap the full cost-effective potential? Well, under the Europe 2020 Strategy Member States are required to submit national 'pledges' by April, which would give a good indication of their intentions. Not all have been received yet, but the evidence of those received so far is that they will add up to a lot less than 20%. OK, so could it that binding targets are manifestly ineffective? Well, clearly by themselves they are not enough - but looking at the experience of renewable energy it seems clear enough that they do inject a useful boost into the system.
No: it rather seems that the Ministers' confidence arises from a benign faith in the contents of the new Energy Efficiency Plan 2011 - due to be adopted by the European Commission on 9 March. Indeed, the Conclusions are based entirely around an anticipation of this Plan.
But in this case... we have bad news for the Ministers: the draft Plan's own impact assessment acknowledges that there is no guarantee the measures in the Plan will fill the 11% gap to the 20% target. And indeed, there is no way such a Plan could guarantee this, given that every measure proposed in the current draft has a) already been drafted in a way that is designed to appeal to reluctant Member States, and b) will only be fleshed out as per the ambition levels of those same Member States. Ambition levels which we can be pretty sure will fall far short of the mark - unless, perhaps, they are subject to the imperative of a binding target. At the same time, the Member States are doing their best to strip the forthcoming European proposals of any teeth or ambition-assurance they might potentially have in the form of mandatory requirements.
It is time for the Member States to stop running scared of both the challenge and the potential that is represented by energy saving. Instead, they should start to work cooperatively with the European Commission and Parliament in enacting the multifaceted strategy that is needed to realise the full benefits of 20% savings - including targets, financing, research, and sector-specific standards, incentives and delivery mechanisms. With the right strategy, Member States need have no fear of binding targets - and should embrace the mind- and resource-focussing opportunity they provide. And given its right of initiative, the European Commission should have no fear about devising and proposing just such a Strategy.