Energy secretary calls on heads of state to back plan but says renewables target will not be binding
Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has called on EU heads of state to endorse a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, but reject a specific binding renewables target.
The European commission is due to issue a paper next Wednesday that is likely propose a EU-wide renewables target in line with the wishes of Germany and France, but Davey, in a Guardian interview, claimed his call not to impose a binding renewables target was gaining traction.
He wants EU states to have flexibility to achieve greenhouse gas emissions through a mix of non-carbon technologies including nuclear, but denied his rejection of a binding renewables target revealed a loss of confidence in the British renewables industry.
Davey, who has worked energetically with a group of like-minded EU energy ministers to strike a deal, is hoping an agreement ahead of the European elections would show the virtues of co-operation in Europe.
Apart from the inherent virtue of a climate change agreement, the Liberal Democrats are going into the European elections as the most explicitly pro-European party and would like to point to progress at an EU heads of state meeting in March.
He said: “Getting a good ambitious deal is vital for climate change policy in this country and across Europe, setting the path for the next 15 years. It is vital for the 2015 [global] talks.
“If we can set an ambitious agenda, that will influence key meetings ahead. If Europe doesn’t take that ambitious position, the chances of getting the Americans, the Chinese and others to commit or put forward plans … just won’t happen.”
He also said he expected David Cameron to go to the UN in September in a bid to set the framework for a wider international climate change deal in 2015 in Paris designed to supersede the Kyoto Protocol and involve all the major world economies.
He said the aim was for the EU this year to back a 40% cut in greenhouse
emissions compared to a 1990 baseline, but to offer a 50% cut if a strong UN-wide deal can be struck in 2015.
That might be delivered not just by emissions in the EU but international credits, where Europe pays for action elsewhere particularly in developing countries.
He said: “We don’t need a binding renewables target in 2030. We need the most ambitious greenhouse gas emissions target that we can possibly achieve. That’s what you need for the climate change talks, that will drive investment in all low carbon.”
He pointed out that the UK government’s existing, as yet unimplemented, target to decarbonise the power industry is technology neutral and the same principles should apply to the EU.
He insisted British renewables would still flourish even if there is no binding EU renewables target, similar to one set by the EU until 2020. He said: “All our analysis shows you will see loads of investment in renewables and loads of investment in low carbon.”
But he added: “What we’ve seen in this decade is the cost of offshore, solar come down …
“In the 2020s, I think renewables, nuclear, and CCS [carbon capture schemes] have got to compete in the market to show which is the most cost-effective at helping us achieve climate change targets as quickly as possible. For me it’s about climate change. I think the greenhouse gas emissions target delivers that”.
He denied this betrayed a loss of confidence in renewables: “God no! Renewables in any context, any scenario, are going to boom in the 2020s.
“Offshore wind grew by 79% last year. We are easily the leader in offshore wind in the world, no one’s touching us, we’re miles ahead. One individual company might be reducing its investment but that’s not the story.”
He freely admitted he had a battle to win in Europe, particularly with Germany. He said: “I’ve been arguing in public, private, the council, the green growth group, I’ve been saying look guys, I understand but if you take my approach the renewables industry will still bloom and blossom. I think that argument is getting traction. Spain are with the UK, they don’t want a renewables target and I think we will see other countries coming out. There is an argument to be had, I’m not moving away from that.”
He added a deal that did not contain a binding renewables target would help the Tories to fight off Ukip. He argued: “I’d be able to say I’ve got the most ambitious climate change package and we’ve led the whole way. We’ll be able to show, we’ve commissioned the research, showing the effect of the different targets on growth an the electricity industries. It shows you can be really ambitious and it hardly affects growth at all. It’s statistically insignificant.Europe isn’t imposing a particular energy source. It’s allowing us to choose our own mix and do it in the most cost-effective way. Conservatives committed to fighting climate change should think our approach is exactly the right one.
“Obviously Conservatives not committed to combating climate change won’t agree with any of it.”
• This article was amended on 18 January 2014. The headline of the original stated that Davey wanted to cut carbon emissions by 40% “in 16 years”. The actual proposed cut is 40% of the 1990 level.