Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The tragedy of the war in Ukraine has once more shown Europe – as if we needed yet another proof – that being dependent on energy imports from foreign countries, and even more so from undemocratic and unstable regimes such as Putin’s Russia, has been a dangerous and short-sighted political choice of the past decades.
Instead of channeling investments into a real ecological transition based on energy efficiency and renewables, which would guarantee full energy independence and promote local employment, the EU and the Member States have continued to squander public money to finance fossil fuels’ infrastructures, thus enriching energy companies and multinationals, rather than supporting our citizens and businesses in the shift towards sustainable renewable energy sources.
Even though this should have been done many years ago already, last week’s publication of the RePowerEU Plan is surely an important step forward. The fact that the European Commission is coming out with legal measures and increased binding targets for energy efficiency and renewables is positive, although we would have expected a higher level of ambition, which is needed to end our energy dependence on Russia and fight the climate crisis.
The package of proposals undoubtedly presents some improvements compared to the current policy framework, for example, the legal obligation to install solar panels on all new public and commercial buildings over 250 square meters by 2026 and on all new residential buildings by 2029. Boosting the deployment rate of heat pumps is also key, with a target of 10 million units over the next 5 years. Through these initiatives, the EU should also develop a local value chain for these technologies, thereby generating millions of additional jobs across Member States. In this context, the proposed simplification of the current rules on approval procedures for renewable energy projects is vital, albeit this should never be done at the expense of the environmental impact of new infrastructure.
Unfortunately, not all aspects of the RePowerEU Plan can be commended. The Commission is in fact leaving the door open for Member States to continue funding fossil fuel infrastructure, in this way diverting investments from the green transition towards new pipelines and LNG terminals, perpetuating our fossil energy dependence. In particular, worrisome is the possibility for Member States to derogate from the Do No Significant Harm Principle (DNSH) for investments in oil and gas, as well as the projected increase of the reliance on coal and nuclear in the coming years.
The issue of financing also looks unfavorable, as the Commission refrains from seeking out new funds to finance the Plan, but rather relies on the additional sale of allowances from the Emissions Trading System (ETS). Using ETS revenues to fund the further expansion of fossil infrastructure contradicts the very objective of this tool, as it will increase emissions instead of curbing them. At the same time, it is also regrettable that the Commission has not exerted more pressure on the Member States to redistribute the billions of windfall profits gained by the big energy companies to those hit hardest by this crisis.
All in all, we must admit that the REPowerEU Plan, despite claiming to be bold and future-looking, actually lacks the courage to definitively close with the bad habits of the past. More ambition on energy efficiency and renewables cannot be undermined by ambiguous measures that still look at more fossil fuels, heightening the risk of lock-ins and investments in stranded assets.
Accelerating the green transition means fostering our energy sovereignty and putting an end to the unsustainable energy model that led us to the current crisis. There is only one way for Europe to free itself from its energy dependence: sufficiency, efficiency, and renewables. For the climate, for peace and for justice.