Sustainable Energy

How should the 20 per cent renewables target be divided among the member states?

The EU has set two remarkable targets to be reached by 2020: 20 per cent energy saving and 20 per cent renewables in the energy mix. Those targets are remarkable because they were set without specifying in detail what the numbers meant or how they should be achieved. This resulted in two post factum discussions: how much does 1 per cent energy saving mean (see previous blog post), and how should the 20 per cent renewables target be divided among the member states?

The latter is currently the subject of a heated debate in which all governments are running for cover. The debate failed to reach a conclusion in December and is postponed to the Commission meeting of 23 January 2008.

Two different approaches to reaching a goal

Has the approach of the European Commission failed? It looks like it has, but it’s easy to be critical after the fact.

A more logical approach would have been to set a qualitative goal first. For example: ‘the energy sector has to do all that is technologically and economically sound to abate climate change.’ In a next step, a qualified technical commission should then define realistic target values to reach this goal, in consultation with all stakeholders. The risk of such an approach however is that the technical commission is not forced to leave the beaten track and will work towards a compromise. The concept ‘all that is sound’ risks rapid degradation.

By first setting a rather arbitrary chosen far-reaching target without specifying the means to reach it, one can hope that the stakeholders will be forced to leave their business-as-usual positions.

However, in the approach the EU is now following, there is again a discussion phase in which the goal can be degraded and a little ambitious compromise sought. The consequences of the 20 per cent energy savings target can vary a great deal according to how the percentages are defined. It is a very questionable approach to specify this definition only after the target has been set. The 20 per cent renewables target on the other hand risks degradation during the discussion on the partition among the Member States.

Country governments trying to get around commitments

It is strange that some of the same governments that approved the general target are now arguing that this 20 per cent for their country is not realistic. More specifically, the UK government is trying everything to get around and away from all commitments. It is devoting itself to the creation of another trading scheme so that member nations who cannot comply with the target might be able to purchase renewable certificates. Such a trading scheme is not stimulating the buying and selling of real renewable power across borders, but only the buying and selling of virtual certificates. It would leave the entire system with little transparency and end up almost certainly in degrading results in the field.

Fortunately, the EU Commission is not giving in easily. They worked out a partition mechanism that is partially based on GDP. Renewable sources currently account for 8.5 per cent of the EU energy consumption, meaning that an 11.5 percentage point increase is required to reach the 2020 goal. The Commission proposed that all member states would make an across-the-board increase of 5.75 per cent, and that the further 5.75 per cent would be divided up using a calculation based on GDP. I’m curious to see if this simple and fair proposition will stand the opposition from certain Member States. We will know more after the meeting of the Commission on January 23.


  • Article New EU renewables law takes shape on Euractiv
  • Article EU to Propose Renewable Energy Goal Based on GDP on Planet Ark
  • Article Energy: the fundamental unseriousness of Gordon Brown on The Oil Drum
  • Article EU on target for Renewable Goal on Matter Network
Author :


  1. after 3 years of PhD research in the subject I know this:

    the logistical, technical, organizational, financial means are here now. We can have 100% sustainable transport and electricity production within 10 years. Period.

    I also know where the bottle neck is: a stunning lack of adequate knowlegde, vision, leadership, political clout


    start with

    follow up with

    see icon projects raise awareness, creating platform for more visionary leadership in the sense of Rifkin’s ‘The European dream’

    Emil Möller
    U Maastricht
    0031 6 51860992

Comments are closed.