They say a day in politics can be a long time - a week even more. None more so than the last 7 days, when much progress in the EU has started to take shape. The battle centred around the acceptance of binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by drawing 20 percent of power from renewable sources by 2020.
First off 7th March, in the UK. After a telephone call with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Tony Blair finally accepted the need for a binding target to help establish EU leadership in the worldwide fight against climate change.
8th and 9th March, Brussels: 2 days of EU negotiations netted a binding compromise agreement. Greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 20 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020, with a 30 percent reduction to be implemented when other nations follow suit. Mandatory targets were agreed: 20% energy is to come from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020 (Currently renewables account for less than 7% of the energy mix used in the EU). 10% of cars and trucks will run on biofuels made from plants by 2020.
1. Individual targets will be allowed for each of the 27 EU member states to meet the renewable energy goal, with less stringent targets for East European countries who lag behind the rest of the EU in developing renewable energy (Poland, for example, obtains more than 90 percent of its energy for heating from coal).
2. The inclusion of nuclear energy. Despite stiff resistance from Austria, Denmark and Ireland, Mr. Chirac succeeded in lobbying hard for the inclusion of nuclear power as a noncarbon energy alternative (95% of France's energy comes from nuclear).
Detailed rules specifying how the agreement will be enforced have yet to be drawn up and The European Commission, which drafts legislation for the European Union, will be charged with coming up with individual countries’ targets in coordination with those nations. Doubtless much legal wrangling lies ahead.
Nevertheless, these are significant foundations. The importance of mandatory targets are two fold. Firstly, mandatory targets mean teeth: violation of targets will result in prosecution at the ECJ and imposition of heavy fines - a necessary deterrent to ensure targets are met. Secondly, it finally opens the door to the renewables industry. Despite the lack of subsidies that conventional energy receives (to the tune of $250-300 billion annually worldwide), renewables will be able to compete in the energy sector and investor confidence in the renewable market place is assured.