(Brussels) EU states and MEPs agreed on Thursday to almost double the share of renewables in energy consumption by 2030, a key component of the ambitious European climate plan.
The approved text consecrates biomass (wood burned to produce energy) as green energy, to the chagrin of environmental NGOs worried about the impact on forests, and takes into account the role of nuclear power to produce carbon-free hydrogen, bone of contention between the Twenty-Seven.
The agreement, reached after a night of final talks, sets a binding target of at least 42.5% of renewables in European consumption by 2030, a near doubling of the current level of around 22% ( 19% in France).
This is a significant increase from the current EU target for 2030 (32%). MEPs and States have agreed to strive to reach 45%, an “indicative” figure corresponding to what the European Commission and Parliament initially demanded.
“Renewables will contribute to our energy sovereignty by reducing fossil imports” and will reduce consumer bills, said Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
The NGO European Environmental Bureau, however, regretted a “weak and exceeded” target: “the modeled scenarios show that 50% are possible and recommended to respect the Paris Agreement”, she insists.
The text simplifies and speeds up the authorization procedures for renewable energy infrastructures, with dedicated territories where the regulations will be relaxed and a presumption of overriding public interest.
The EU plans 49% renewables in building energy consumption, with a gradual greening trajectory for heating and cooling through specific national targets.
In transport, States must by 2030 either reduce the intensity of greenhouse gases by 14.5% through the use of renewables, or reach 29% of renewables in the final energy consumption of the sector.
With the binding target of 5.5% of “advanced biofuels” (derived from non-food feedstocks) or “renewable fuels of non-biological origin” (renewable hydrogen, hydrogen-based synthetic fuels) in dedicated renewables to transport.
Manufacturers will have to increase their use of renewables by 1.6% per year. In each country, the share of renewable hydrogen in the hydrogen used by industry must reach 42% by 2030 and 60% by 2035.
However, the Swedish Presidency of the EU, which was negotiating on behalf of the States, obtained a relaxation of the objective for countries with a nuclear fleet capable of producing carbon-free hydrogen.
The question tore the Twenty-Seven: France and its allies demanded equal treatment between renewable hydrogen and “low-carbon” – a red line for several countries (Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Spain …), which refused to encourage nuclear in a text devoted to green energies at the risk, according to them, of slowing down investments in renewables.
Finally, the agreement reached provides that the 2030 target for renewable hydrogen may be reduced by 20% for States where the share of “fossil” hydrogen in consumption is less than 23%.
“France will not be obliged to build renewables to make hydrogen for industry and transport, but will also be able to use nuclear. It was an absolute condition for France to support the final agreement,” observed French MEP Pascal Canfin (Renew, centrists and liberals), chairman of the Environment Committee.
However, the text recognizes nuclear “a specific status, neither green nor fossil”, he insisted. What comfort the States refusing the equivalence between atom and green energies.
The agreement maintains the “renewable” status of bioenergy, but reinforces the “sustainability” criteria for biomass, whose sources will be prioritized according to their “economic and environmental added value”, preserving certain forest areas and restricting public aid.
For MEP Markus Pieper (EPP, right), the text enshrines “100% green” biomass.
Fiercely defended by the Scandinavian countries, the practice is denounced by NGOs while more than half of the wood harvest in Europe is burned to produce energy.
This law “will continue to reward energy companies burning millions of trees, our main terrestrial carbon sink, worsening the climate and biodiversity crisis while undermining people’s health”, indignantly Martin Pigeon, of the NGO Fern.