Ambitious energy plan to meet greenhouse gas targets

Proposals unveiled on 23 January for reform of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) will impact on the chemicals sector by extending the system to hitherto exempted activities and to nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. The changes are part of a package of proposals aimed at achieving a 20 per cent cut in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. 

To date, the ETS regime of tradeable emission permits has covered carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from some 10,000 major sources across Europe such as power generation, oil refining, and production of iron, cement and glass. The European Commission now proposes to include CO2 emissions from petrochemicals and ammonia production. 

As for N2O emissions, ETS will be extended to production of nitric, adipic and glyoxylic acid, as well as emissions of perfluorocarbons from the aluminium sector. 

But to meet its ambitious greenhouse gas targets, the proposals also say there must be a bigger contribution from renewable energy to the total EU energy mix - rising from its current share of 8.5 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020. However, ’burden-sharing’ arrangements will mean that legally binding national targets will range between 49 per cent for Sweden to just 10 per cent for Malta, with the UK included at the lower end of the range, at 15 per cent. 

The Commission package is based on targets endorsed by the 27 EU member state governments in March, 2007. 

States have said that 2020 EU target for greenhouse gas emissions could be raised to 30 per cent by 2020 - if other industrialized nations sign a global agreement to replace the current Kyoto Protocol. 

Parliamentary welcome 

Presented to the European Parliament within minutes of agreement between Commission officials, the package was welcomed by most political groups. 

For the Greens, Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes saw the package as ’a first step’ toward a regime that would offer ’millions of new jobs; technology leadership for Europe; carbon dioxide reductions; less dependence on gas and oil imports - and more competition in energy markets’. 

MEPs underscored that the package must clear all legislative hurdles by April 2009 when the current European Parliament is due to be dissolved ahead of EU elections. Otherwise the EU will lose its moral authority in the upcoming climate change negotiations, the timetable for which was set out recently at the December 2007 climate change summit in Bali. 

Biofuels controversy 

Further components of the package aim to establish a framework in EU law for carbon capture and storage projects. But the proposals keep a controversial commitment to increasing use of biofuels in the EU transport sector to 10 per cent. 

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences, recently released a report that criticised some biofuels policies - including the EU biofuels directive and the UK’s renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO) - which indiscriminately encouraged all biofuels rather than just those that cut greenhouse gases. 

Martin Rees, the Royal Society’s president, commented that achieving a 15 per cent target for renewables would be ’a real challenge’ for the UK where the current share is around 2 per cent. 

’The Commission has already recognised weaknesses in its biofuels target,’ Rees added. ’The Royal Society has called on the government to amend the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation to include a greenhouse gas reduction target in the UK so that the genuine potential of biofuels can be realised.’ 

Arthur Rogers