30/30/30: nein/nein/nein!

During the current Republican primary race for president of the United States, the candidate Herman Cain promoted a plan called ‘9/9/9’, referring to flat percentage rates for various taxes. It was simple, and made a good TV soundbite – but that was its only benefit. Amusingly, saying 9/9/9 on the podium made Cain sound distinctly like a German objecting strenuously to his own plan.

Empty repetition of numbers with a German tint was on my mind yesterday when I heard EU Energy Commissioner Gunther  Oettinger say that perhaps we will soon move from our current 20/20/20 targets (20% greenhouse gas cuts and 20% renewable energy by 2020) to 30/30/30 targets. My first thought was ‘nein/nein/nein!’

A 30% greenhouse gas target for 2030 isn’t even the Commission’s own goal, as laid out in the 2050 low carbon roadmap last year. It states that 40% cuts achieved domestically is on the least-cost pathway to 80% cuts. The Council has stated the goal of up to 95% cuts, and our current 20% cuts aren’t even being achieved fully domestically. Both facts mean that the 40% level in 2030 is a minimum – aiming higher than 80% in 2050 and incorporating credits for actions outside the EU would mean an even higher target.

In other words 30% isn’t anywhere near acceptable. In fact, many countries in the EU have been calling for a move to 30% already in 2020.

Renewable energy goals for 2030 are less clear. The various pathways in Oettinger’s 2050 energy roadmap, published in December last year, although yielding quite different levels of renewables by 2050, all pass (coincidentally?) close to 30% in 2030. Critiques of the roadmap make it clear that the 30% level is likely an artefact of some dodgy assumptions about the costs of renewable energy. It is also significantly below the potential identified by the European Renewable Energy Council: 45% produced domestically. Adding the possibility of imports from Europe’s neighbours, the potential could be even higher.

Post-2020 policy, perhaps a climate and energy package for 2030, is certainly needed at some point soon. Providing clarity longer-term is essential for investment, and we need a chance to refine policy further based on what we’ve learned over the past decade. What that package should look like is the focus much thinking this year, and facile answers are premature.

Oettinger’s statement was passed off in the guise of a half-joking suggestion. But he made the same comment during the informal ministerial a week earlier in Horsens, Denmark. If his goal is to create the same kind of meme that 20/20/20 has become, then the answer now should be: nein/nein/nein!

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