23 October 2009: Dutch and Danish climate progress

On Thursday 22 and Friday 23 October 2009, I went to Clingendael, The Netherlands Institute for International Relations, for a seminar on how to meet the EU 20% renewables target. I was invited to speak last night on the basis of my Centre for European Reform report on this (see CER Bulletin: The EU must do more on climate change). This morning, I heard talks on the Danish Climate Commission, which the government has set up to work out how to move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and on the European Commission’s view on how the Renewable Energy Directive should be implemented.


It certainly felt ironic for an Englishman to be invited to tell the Dutch what to do about renewable energy. The Dutch basically invented the use of wind power for purposes other than sailing. Today, they have harnessed 2.2Gw of wind power – impressive for a relatively small country – and now aim to build offshore wind farms too. They generate 10% of their current electricity from renewables, which is actually lower than the proportion of total EU electricity renewably generated but, for obvious geographical reasons, they do not have any significant hydroelectricity. The area where they are performing badly is renewable heat. They do use some biomass for heating and some biogas (see Biofuels), but this amounts to only about 1% of the Dutch use of heat.  In comparison, Sweden gets 54% of its heat from biomass.


Denmark is now seriously focussed on climate change – and not just because the UN conference in December is in Copenhagen. Denmark has no significant fossil reserves, so has strong energy security reasons to use alternatives.  It has a lot of coastline and led the world in offshore wind development.  (The UK overtook it last year, to have the world’s largest installed offshore wind capacity. It is good news that it has done this, but the UK is a rather larger country and economy than Denmark.) Denmark plans a major further expansion of wind, both on and offshore, and some expansion of biomass. The Climate Commission is due to report next autumn.


The EU Renewables Directive sets a target that 20% of all energy (electricity, transport and heating) should come from renewables by 2020. This more than doubles the share of renewables in just over a decade. Unlike Kyoto targets or whatever emerges from Copenhagen, the EU targets are legally binding and enforceable. However, the European Commission and Parliament have relatively little influence over renewable development in member states – as indeed they have over energy policy and practice generally. Therefore, the main implementation mechanism for the Directive is the National Renewable Energy Action Plan – a report which member states must give to the Commission by June 2010.  Essentially, member state governments have to tell the Commission what they’re doing to meet the Directive targets.  It isn’t clear what influence it will have if the Commission isn’t satisfied with what they’re doing. 


Probably, the main weakness of the Directive is that it is too encouraging of biomass. After many years of debate and campaigning, the Commission is belatedly introducing criteria to judge how sustainable biofuels are. There are no clear plans for criteria on biomass, even though some biomass is as climate-damaging as some biofuel. Yet the Commission expects half of the 20% renewable energy to be from biomass. Agreed ways to measure whether biomass is good or bad are needed, before it can be allowed to count towards the targets and, even more importantly, because much biomass receives public subsidy through the Common Agricultural Policy.

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