Today, EU national governments are meeting to discuss who should be the next President of the Commission. The current president, Jose Manuel Barroso, wants a second term and will probably be given it. There are no other named candidates and the victory of the European centre-right parties in this month’s European parliamentary elections strengthens his hand. This would be good for the climate – under Barroso, the Commission has made significant progress and was behind the agreement in December 2008 for:
- A 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020 (which will rise to a 30% target if international agreement is reached).
- A 20% increase in energy efficiency.
- 20% of EU electricity, heat and transport fuels to be provided by renewables by 2020.
However, even if Barroso is told he will be re-appointed, EU politics are likely to be slow-moving for the rest of this year. The other Commissioners have to be nominated by national governments and the president then has to allocate portfolios – with the bigger, richer countries demanding ones they deem important. In addition, the new parliament has to bed in. The Lisbon Treaty on constitutional reform will be voted on again by the Irish in the autumn. Of the member states, Germany has elections in September and the UK government is pre-occupied with the expenses scandal and how to recover from Labour’s poor performance in the Euro-elections (fortunately Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, appears untainted). It is not an ideal time for Sweden to take the helm. However, in climate terms (as on most other issues), it is the most progressive EU government. It takes over from the Czech Republic on 1 July 2009, for six months.
Fortunately, European businesses have not put everything on hold while the politicians squabble. A group of large German businesses announced this week that they are pressing ahead with Desertec. This is a plan to harness solar power in the Sahara and import it, via a grid under the Mediterranean, into Europe. This will cost an estimated €400 billion. The consortium is led by the re-insurance group Munich Re, who fear enormous future claims resulting from unmitigated climate change, and also includes the largest German utilities, Eon and RWE. A Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) station with a capacity of 2Gw would take five years to build. Longer term, Desertec is talking of 100Gw of CSP in the Sahara.
Clearly, these businesses are far from perfect, and both Eon and RWE are major coal users. However, it is encouraging that they also appear serious about renewables. Some German politicians have complained that Saharan CSP is not as good as solar panels on German roofs (see Spiegel Online International: Desertec Solar Project ‘an Encouraging Economic Sign’). That is a pointless argument – we must harness solar power from both.