A handful of economic myths focused on the negative effects of ambitious climate action currently dominate the public discourse. This toolkit addresses these myths with referenced arguments.

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Aligning short and long-term climate & energy policy objectives in the EU

An animated overview of the EU’s climate and energy policy architecture, and how to optimise it.

The EU aims to achieve 3 climate and energy policy goals by 2020

These three short-term targets exist within the wider context of the EU aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% below 1990 levels, by 20502.

Current projections show that the EU is on track to achieve goals 1 and 2, but will achieve only half of its energy savings goal3.

The dilemma

When these individual goals are looked at together, it becomes clear that we are faced with a dilemma. Increasing energy efficiency to achieve the 20% energy savings target will reduce energy consumption, which in turn will reduce emissions by at least 25%4. Reducing emissions by 25% is a good thing, but it also reduces demand for emissions permits from the Emissions Trading Scheme. Reduced demand for emission permits puts downward pressure on the price of those permits. That reduces the incentive for low-carbon investments.

The dilemma therefore is how to achieve the energy savings target without undermining the price of emission permits in the Emissions Trading Scheme5.

Comparing policy scenarios

A good way of solving this dilemma is to look at the possible climate and energy policy scenarios for 2020 and compare their impact on CO2 prices and the economy-wide cost of achieving both the 2020 and 2050 emissions reduction targets.The 3 possible policy scenarios for 2020 are the business as usual scenario, the enhanced energy efficiency scenario, and the increased ambition scenario.

Scenario I — Business as usual

The 20% emissions reduction target is achieved but the energy savings target is missed by half. In this scenario:

Scenario II — The enhanced energy efficiency

The existing Climate and Energy goals for 2020 are met (including the 20% energy savings target). In this scenario:

This scenario has a substantial carbon lock-in risk because there is little short-term incentive for low-carbon investments.

Scenario III — The increased ambition scenario

The 20% energy savings target is achieved and the 20% emissions reduction target increased. In this scenario:

Scenario I incurs a high long-term mitigation cost.
Scenario II fails to generate a stable and acceptable carbon price
Scenario III on the other hand generates a stable carbon price and incurs the same short-term mitigation cost as the business-as-usual scenario but with a low long-term mitigation cost. In this scenario, the additional investment costs of tapping into the energy savings potential and switching to renewables would be compensated for because the amount the EU spends on fuel would fall8.

The solution

Therefore to optimize the short term EU climate and energy policy mix:


[1] European Council Conclusions, March 2007

[2] European Council Conclusions, October 2009

[3] The European Commission estimates in is Impact Assessment accompanying the Energy Efficiency Plan 2011 (March 2011) that current policies would lead to a 9% reduction in energy demand compared to the PRIMES 2007 baseline, missing the 20% energy savings target by more than half.

[4] This is the European Commission’s own estimate in its Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050 (March 2011). Another study by Ecofys suggest that meeting the EU’s 20% energy savings and renewable energy targets could reduce the EU’s GHG emissions by up to 32% (Höhne, Niklas et al. (2011), Consistency of policy instruments – How the EU could move to a -30% greenhouse gas reduction target, Climate Strategies)

[5] The downward pressure on the price of emission permits in the ETS from meeting the energy savings target on is only additional to the one resulting from design failures inherent to the Scheme that resulted in lower carbon prices than originally expected and repeated price crashes.  It is estimated that the EU ETS is currently oversupplied with about 1.9 billion ETS permits, equivalent to a year worth of emissions in the traded sectors. (Morris, Damien (2011), Buckle Up! – Tighten the cap and avoid the carbon crash, Sandbag)

[6] It is estimated that the rapidly accelerating emissions reduction effort implied by delivering only 20% by 2020 and moving to 80% by 2050 would lead to a full decade of declining GDP at the end of the period, which is economically extremely inefficient and politically implausible (Guérin, Emmanuel and Thomas Spencer (2011), Strengthening the European Union Climate and Energy Package : to build a low-carbon, competitive and energy secure European Union, IDDRI and Climate Strategies, Paris).

[7] In the European Commission’s Impact Assessment accompanying the Energy Efficiency Directive (June 2011), the impact of achieving the 20% energy savings target on the carbon price under the ETS varies from falling to 14.2 €/t CO2 in 2020 compared to a price of about 16.5 €/t in the baseline scenario to falling to zero depending on the model used.

[8] European Commission, Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050, March 2011

[9] European Commission, Energy Efficiency Plan 2011, March 2011

Importance of Low Carbon

A handful of arguments focused on the negative effects of increasing the EU's climate policy ambition - whether increasing Europe's emission reduction goal, tightening the Emissions Trading System, or introducing new policies to reduce emissions - currently dominate public discourse. These arguments build on the exaggerated concerns of a few industrial sectors and remain unchallenged by most policy makers, afraid of losing jobs and money in the current economic context. As a result, policy debates are biased by a few commonly accepted myths and misleadingly focused on minimising costs and protecting vested interests.