The EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, published new figures on energy consumption for 2018 this week (4 February). As expected, they weren’t good, with the EU as a whole set to miss its 2020 energy efficiency objective by a margin of up to 5%, in what campaigners called the “biggest miss” of all EU climate targets.
Primary energy consumption in the EU was 4.9% above the efficiency target for 2020, Eurostat said, while final energy consumption – at the consumer level – was slightly better, at 3.2% above benchmark.
The figures were barely changed from the previous year. While primary energy consumption declined by 0.71%, final energy consumption crept up somewhat, by 0.02% compared to 2017.
This means Europe’s energy efficiency objective is getting further out of reach.
The EU has an energy efficiency target of reducing energy consumption by 20% by 2020 but it has consistently underperformed in meeting that objective.
“Europe is about to blow its target for cutting energy waste,” said Clémence Hutin, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, a non-profit group. Europe is “actually using more energy now than when efficiency targets were first agreed” in 2012, she told EURACTIV.
Poland and Spain are the worst offenders, with an increase of 13.7% and 7.5% respectively compared to 2013, according to Eurostat figures.
The efficiency target is part of a set of climate and energy objectives for 2020 which also includes a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a target to grow the share of renewables to 20% of the bloc’s energy mix.
“This is the biggest ‘miss’ of all the EU’s 20/20/20 targets due to be delivered this year,” Hutin said.
It is no surprise that Europe is trailing behind. In October last year, the European Environment Agency warned that the EU was at “risk of not meeting” its 2020 targets on energy efficiency.
“The worrying overall trend is most prevalent in buildings” and transport, where final energy consumption increased by 8.3 % in 2014-2017 and 5.8 % respectively, the EEA said.
“With these trends, meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target appears increasingly difficult,” the EEA warned at the time.
And projections for 2030 don’t look good either. According to the European Commission, energy efficiency measures currently planned by EU member states risk leaving a gap of 6.2 percentage points versus a 32.5% energy saving benchmark for 2030.
For climate campaigners, Europe’s failure to meet the efficiency objective is the result of sheer political negligence.
When the energy efficiency directive was adopted in 2012, EU member states staunchly resisted calls to make the 2020 objective a legally-binding obligation, Hutin points out.
“There is still a clear lack of political will in the EU although energy efficiency is the foundation of the energy transition,” she said.
With most EU countries set to miss their 2020 efficiency target, some have even started looking for statistical tricks to inflate their figures. As EURACTIV revealed last year, many member states are planning to account for changes in fuel taxes introduced in the past to claim “additional” energy savings as part of their EU climate obligations.
Brussels considering “additional measures”
In Brussels, the European Commission doesn’t hide its disappointment with the figures.
“We are aware that achieving our energy efficiency target remains a challenge,” said Tim McPhie, a spokesperson for the EU executive.
“Member States have been urged to take action and to set up new measures,” he told EURACTIV, saying the Commission has put together “a dedicated task force” with representatives of EU national governments in order “to mobilise efforts to reach the 2020 targets”.
Looking ahead, McPhie said it was “essential” that member countries continue their efforts as part of the National Energy and Climate Plans where governments set out policy measures aimed at meeting the bloc’s 2030 climate objectives. Additional measures at the EU level will be considered if the gap persists, he said.
The European Commission still has lofty ambitions as part of its European Green Deal, which aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050.
“’Energy efficiency first’ is a vital principle in the clean energy transition,” Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy Commissioner, told lawmakers in the European Parliament last month.
“I want to do more to ensure it applies in practice,” she added, saying she intends to “provide concrete guidelines to member states” in order to mainstream energy efficiency “into all levels of policy-making”.
Improving energy efficiency of buildings will be “an obvious place to start,” she continued, saying the European Green Deal will aim to “triple” the annual rate of renovation, which currently stands at about 1-2% of the building stock.