Researchers for two British green campaign groups have discovered figures in European Commission documents which establish that it is possible for Europe to make 30% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, as called for by the UK and six other European states.
The discovery exposes a conflict at the heart of European climate change policy between the Climate and Energy Directorates-General (DGs), led by Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger respectively. It reveals why the policy has not yet been adopted while showing that there is no statistical basis for not doing so.
A month ago, Chris Huhne, the British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, called for the EU emissions cut target to be raised from 20% to 30% by 2020. In a letter also signed by Environment Ministers from Denmark, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, he wrote, "Now is the right time to discuss the most cost-effective route to achieving our 2050 goals, maximising growth, jobs and prosperity throughout Europe. We are not starting from scratch; the EU has already cut emissions by 17% from 1990 levels by 2009."
At the time, EC ministers were about to discuss the EC's Roadmap for a low carbon economy. WWF said the letter was "a step in the right direction" but added that "Europe's fair share of emissions reductions to address climate change lies even higher - at the end of 2009, forty of the world's leading climate scientists joined a WWF statement calling for a 40% cut by 2020."
It is WWF's researcher Arianna Vitali, together with Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth, who discovered the statistical evidence, calling it a "breakthrough".
The evidence is identified as follows: the Climate DG's official position is that a 25% reduction in GHGs by 2020 is possible if the EU's goal of a 20% improvement on energy efficiency is also met.
Its basis for the the claim is found on page 55 of its Low Carbon Roadmap for 2050 impact assessment which projects an energy consumption rate in Europe of 1,740 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) by 2020.
This contrasts with a projection for the same rate of just 1,600 Mtoe in the DG Energy's Energy Efficiency Plan communication (page 2).
EurActiv, the European Union affairs portal, quotes unnamed Commission officials as saying that the discrepancy of 140 Mtoe is because the scenarios used in the Low Carbon Roadmap do not assume an achievement of the 20% energy efficiency target, as it is not legally binding.
Yet the DG Energy document clearly assumes that it is achieved. And if it was achieved, then DG Climate's modelling shows that a 30% reduction in GHG emissions would result. So why, then, is DG Energy blocking the raising of the target?
This is all the more puzzling because both departments use the same modelling system - called PRIMES.
The unnamed source quoted by EurActiv states that the reason is due to "long-standing tensions" between the two departments . They are, it says, "very reluctant" to work together "on any statistics that could be used to link energy efficiency with emissions reductions, including the energy consumption figures used in the Roadmap's Impact Assessment".
Energy Commissioner Gnther Oettinger, whose department is more subject to lobbying from energy-intensive industries, maintains that the EU's current 20% emissions reduction target for 2020 is the maximum that can be achieved without harming Europe's industries.
Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard wants a 30% target to help the EU's longer-term goal of 80-95% cuts by 2050.
The existence of the tensions perhaps explains why the energy efficiency goal of the European Union remains only voluntary, while the other two climate-related goals (on GHG reduction and renewable energy) are mandatory - industry perceives the short term capital costs of having to adopt the target as too onerous.
WWF and FOE are now hopeful that the exposure of the discrepancy will add fuel for the UK's demand that the target be increased, and that a strong energy efficiency directive due to be agreed in June to recommend that the EU's efficiency targets be made binding.