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By Adam White, Research Coordinator at WWF European Policy Office’s Climate and Energy Unit
This article was first published in “Solidarity: Towards 2030 ambitions in energy policy”, a publication by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies
Having your own energy scenario is fast becoming the price of entry into the debate over the future shape of the EU’s energy system. NGOs have them, businesses have them, and governments have them. The European Commission has many of them. If scenarios are a unifying feature of this debate, then energy efficiency is a unifying feature of those scenarios. Every new way of limiting our production of greenhouse gases depends, usually to a significant extent, on limiting our consumption of energy. Without energy efficiency, none of our plans will work. With it, all of them become cheaper, and easier to achieve. So, surely, energy efficiency should be the one thing all parties can agree on?
Sadly, the opposite is true. Energy efficiency has become the most contentious part of EU climate and energy policy making. Efficiency was left out in the cold when climate and energy policies were agreed up to 2020. While greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energy generation were given the high level political support of legally binding targets for Member States, energy efficiency was only given an indicative target. The weakness of the signal from policy makers makes it hardly surprising that the EU will miss its goal to reduce energy consumption by 20% against business as usual projections, unless further action is taken.
At the crux of the problem is a question of perception. Do you consider using less energy to be positive, or negative? Do you think about what you have to do to save energy, or do you think about what saving energy can do for you? Those in the first group see limitations to economic growth, upfront payments for building renovations and more efficient equipment, and other short term costs. Those in the second group see long term savings on fuel bills, reduced dependence on imported fossil fuels, and lower emissions, among other long term benefits. It seems support for stronger action on energy efficiency varies with the length of the time horizon you are looking at.
How can these two viewpoints be brought together? How can each side of this divide come to balanced and acceptable views of both the costs and the benefits? Could new actors in the debate, such as those who allocate and receive regional and structural EU funding that is often directed towards efficiency, raise the ambitions of policy makers to the point that energy savings take their rightful place at the”- centre of EU climate and energy policy?
WWF’s European Policy Office recently completed new research into exactly these issues and has developed 6 key principles for achieving more momentum and greater ambition on energy efficiency:
Ensuring that future policy making is based on these principles will require a break with the failures of the past. The small world of Brussels law making, which becomes smaller still when it is focused on climate and energy in general, and energy efficiency in particular, means this will not be easy.
However, the same WWF research, which included interviews with key players in negotiations over EU energy efficiency policy, highlights three important positive insights:
1. The new context of prolonged economic crisis puts greater premium on saving money by saving energy – for example, meeting the 20% energy savings target would save households over €1,000″each per year;
2. Measures whose primary aim is addressing the economic crisis also provide new opportunities for delivering energy savings;
3. These new opportunities are bringing new actors into the energy savings policy sphere.
New actors will bring a new perspective, unburdened from old arguments. But we must help them to learn fast – by this time next year, the 2030 climate and energy framework should be nearing conclusion.
There is no time to lose
Development or no development?
Yesterday I had an interesting conversation regarding Romania’s current development status, centered around it’s highway system. There has been a lot of debate regarding this system in the country in the past 10 years, and for all intents and purposes it will continue, will all the debacle regarding routes, costs, builders, corruption and fraud. Because they are realities of how things are done. Recently there has been a grand inauguration of a highway section that leads to absolutely nowhere, but there was no shortage of pump and exaltation, obvious critique and media coverage. The current status of Romania’s highway system is not at all satisfactory, since there are sections available for transit but they fail to connect the capital to the borders, a border to another border and so on. An overview is available here.
But that is not what was interesting yesterday.
My thesis upon completion of my studies was related to major transport networks, so i know the ins and outs of having a viable, efficient transport system. But yesterday I decided to play the other card – do we really need highways? Maybe we don’t.
Obviously there is a hoard of arguments to be brought against this idea. I know them all too well. But, as time has showed, if we are unable to develop such a system, is that so much of a tragedy?
Highways, because of their size and inherent cost are managed by the central authorities of the state. They involve huge amounts of planning, financing, expropriation and so on and so forth. And everybody complains about this process. Recently things got even weirder as the major scheme for a highway system has been modified, for no apparent good reason, to favor interior connections instead of completing major transport lines that run across the continent. That is not to say that those connections do not exist, they are just sub standard.
So what if we decided that we want no highway system? What if we decide that we should in turn favor the development of a comprehensive rail network, one that would be upgradable in terms of transit speed in time. Forget highways, build rail networks. We have the Danube also, which can become a major shipping lane, connecting the Black Sea port of Constanta with the rest of Europe.
Rail networks have their advantages. And a proper network, with good operational speed, can transform a territory. Freight shipping would increase(see the case of the US if you want to know why), and with good connectivity people will favor trains over cars. Because train can be so much more comfortable. But it is not enough.
It is true that this would in turn excite economic development mostly around major network nodes, and will vastly change the way the operational logistics of a industrial manufacturer is though out. And that will leave us with vast areas of territory that will be transited by rail networks but less irrigated by them. But is that such a bad thing?
Large natural areas, that are outside the roar and tumble of high transit can become a selling point. It simply depends if you plan to “sell” them traditionally or in a new and innovative manner. You can always go with keeping things green, and developing a strategy to incite a different type of development in these area. Technology has vastly improved. You could be in the middle of nowhere today and still have electricity (sun based, wind based, water based) and all of life commodities we have grown so accustomed to. It is not impossible. And agriculture can improve, revenues from agricultural endeavours possibly even replacing revenues “lost” buy lack of a highway system.
What if we combine high tech with low speed living? would it be so bad? Bicycle trails, horse trails, a good but simple network of low speed roads (in place already, needs upgrading and maintenance only), medium and high speed railway networks and a strategically implemented network of airfields. Because some goods also need the advantage of speed. Say fresh produce which can be delivered by small plane in a matter of hours all over the country. Or outside of it for that matter.
Agriculture can become then the vehicle to a new type of development. Which does not exclude the existence and development of high speed communities.
As the population of the planet grows, food availability, both for consumption and trade, will become an ever-increasing advantage.
This is an exercise in going the other way around. There are of course a million things to think about, but i really don’t think it is impossible. It’s just a different approach.
Because let’s face it, Romania can’t build highways. Not fast enough, not good enough, not cheap enough and weirdest, not logical enough.