On October 24, the 28 countries of the European Union (E.U.) agreed on a series of new targets to combat climate change at a European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium. The European heads of state and government agreed to an overall cut of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The agreement also calls for 27 percent of total energy generation to come from renewable sources by 2030, and for an increase in energy efficiency of at least 27 percent. The scale of a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030 can be put into perspective by looking at current trends, which suggest the European Union will reach a 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020.

E.U. governments are celebrating this agreement, which was a compromise between countries arguing against heavy cuts on coal use, and others calling for even more ambitious GHG reduction goals. French President François Hollande pointed out the importance of a successful deal in sending a message to large polluting nations like the United States and China. Britain’s Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, boasted, "This morning only five countries in Europe had climate targets post 2020, now 28 countries do.” He added this was a “historic moment.”

There were difficulties in reaching a deal, as nations like Poland, which relies heavily on coal, feared negative economic effects. Other less affluent members of the European Union in central and east Europe raised similar concerns. The United Kingdom was also hesitant about targets concerning renewable energy, as the nation prefers nuclear and shale gas as replacements for oil and coal. Overall, the European Union wanted to ensure that any climate deal did not put the region at an economic disadvantage against countries that were not a part of the talks, such as India and China.

Another key aspect of the summit centered on the interconnectivity of European energy markets. Countries like Spain and Portugal were hoping for a binding agreement requiring E.U. members to make 15 percent of their generation capacity available to other members. These nations, also known as “energy islands,” have been seeking markets to sell their surplus energy to, but have been unable to do so in sufficient quantities. With the crisis in Ukraine revealing the current fragility of European energy security, such interconnectivity would also allow nations to move away from dependence on Russian gas. The summit ended with a renewal of previous commitments to increase energy trading 10 percent by 2020, as compared to 2002 levels. Plans to enhance the energy security of Finland and the Baltic States were discussed, but details were not revealed.

Reaction to the agreement was mixed, as the compromises led Joris den Blanken of Greenpeace to classify the package as “very modest.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed, stating, "Germany will not have a hard time [living up to the targets]. We have already set tougher national targets.” Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of Poland was proud to leave the summit with no new burdens on her nation’s economy, as she had adamantly stressed that any agreement that put Poland’s coal-dependent economy at risk would not be accepted. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, assured Poland that poorer nations would receive additional funds in order to assist their transition to cleaner energy sources. Similar compromises will surely be discussed in Paris 2015, as the global community engages in talks at the UN Climate Change Conference.

Author: Carlos Villacis