Ensuring the Energy Union accelerates the transition to a low-carbon energy system in Europe
At the heart of a low-carbon economy lies a clean energy system. With the right infrastructure in place, decarbonised electricity can serve traditional purposes, supply heat for buildings and replace fossil fuels in powering cars and vans.
The Energy Union is the political locus at the European level where this debate takes place. It encapsulates over 50 policy files related to renewables, efficiency, markets, infrastructure as well as transport, buildings and carbon pricing, with a view to putting Europe on track for the decarbonisation goals to 2030 and beyond.
The Energy Union theme presents both an opportunity and a threat to the decarbonisation agenda. It has the potential to remain a limited energy security agenda, focussing on common purchasing of gas and rehabilitating domestic coal supplies. However, if handled well, the Energy Union can strengthen the transition to a decarbonised European Union energy system based on enhanced cooperation, new technologies and integrated energy systems. High penetrations of renewables and energy efficiency and a systems integration perspective, built on cutting edge market design can keep costs low and drive decarbonisation in one of the world’s leading geographies. Over the last year, the Energy Union vision and work programme has moved into that direction and now has decarbonisation at its core.
The term Energy Union was first used in the context of the geo-political tensions between Russia and Ukraine in 2014 when concerns over energy supply security escalated to the highest political levels in Europe. It was launched by Donald Tusk, then Polish Prime Minister and now European Council President, and was picked up by the newly appointed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Juncker confirmed Energy Union as a top strategic priority for his five-year term and assigned the Slovakian Maroš Šefčovič as Vice-President for Energy Union.
The challenge is to make sure there is continued support for the Energy Union’s low-carbon vision. Stakeholders from businesses, cities, finance and citizens need to own and progress the Energy Union agenda together. This is not evident in a political context that puts a question mark around the political feasibility of ‘more Europe’. While most Member States understand and subscribe to the benefits of cooperation on energy issues (cost, risk, resilience), the political narrative may be an obstacle to concrete progress toward closer institutional cooperation in that direction. This could create a wedge between the European Commission’s vision and Member States’ willingness to progress. There is a risk that the ambition of the Energy Union project will be watered down in the course of the next years when concrete policy initiatives on climate and energy for 2030 are debated in European Parliament and European Council.
The European Climate Foundation (ECF) and its partners have been strong supporters of an integrated European energy and climate agenda for many years. The ECF’s Roadmap 2050 series, developed in cooperation with Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G) and Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), provide plenty of convincing analysis on the benefits of market integration from a cost and risk point of view. ECF initiatives such as Agora Energiewende or the Polish Forum for Energy Analysis encourage this agenda from within key European capitals.
The ECF works through an innovative cluster approach at the European and national level to bring together key actors, such as E3G, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Agora Energiewende and RAP. The cluster partners have a high level of understanding of the policy challenges and political obstacles, which puts them in a premium position to contribute to the debate. We also work with organisations such as the Buildings Performance Institute (BPIE), Chatham House and Friends of the Earth.
The ECF continues to invest in quality analysis on energy questions. In cooperation with Climact, we are working with Artelys, ElementEnergy and the larger TIMES energy modelling community to develop new, cutting-edge energy modelling capacity, available to the network and ensuring highest levels of transparency.
For more information, please visit the Energy Union Choices website at energyunionchoices.eu.