Tuesday, 30 December 2008

20/20/20 by 2020

Earlier this month the 10,000-strong United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznań, Poland didn't appear to achieve much, managing to remove a colon. However, it certainly advanced the intensely political process of agreeing what to do about climate change, and the EU affirmed previously set climate goals in the teeth of bad economic weather.

Those goals form the famous 20/20/20 by 2020 policy, first proposed by the European Commission in January 2007, approved by European Councils of first Environment, then Prime Ministers in February and March 2007, drawn up into a legislative package by the European Commission in January 2008, and now voted into effect by the European Parliament on December 17th, directly after the Poznań conference. Apart from providing an insight into the EU at work, what this means is that Europe has now legislated measures intended to let us meet three goals by the year 2020:
  • cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over 1990 levels; 30% if other countries act similarly
  • supply 20% of total energy (heat and transport as well as electricity) from renewables such as wind and sunshine
  • make efficiency savings of 20% over forecast consumption
Doing this in only eleven years will be no mean feat. The scale of investment needed in new, clean electricity generation is unprecedented. In 2005, the latest year for which Energy.eu has statistics, Europe supplied only 8.5% of its total energy needs from renewables, and of that a full 89% was supplied by biomass and hydropower. Biomass may be able to grow, but it tends to come with other environmental costs; hydropower has rather limited potential for further growth. Whichever renewable technology we use, building this much of it by 2020 means we have to start now, which means we can't wait and see what clever new technologies can do for us. It's a safe bet that we'll be seeing a lot more wind turbines and solar installations.

But energy production is only one arrow in the EU's quiver. The other is cheaper, easier, faster and more likely to hit it's '20% by 2020' target: efficiency. Efficiency gets a lot less press than glamorous energy production technologies, but it is something everyone can have a hand in, not just industry and government: 26% of the EU's total energy consumption is consumed at home. What's more, saving energy saves money as well as the environment - the cheapest kilowatt is the one you never use.

There are hundreds of ways to use less energy at home, by using it more efficiently, or by just not using it in the first place! According to the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, most households in the UK could cut their energy consumption by a third just by using it more efficiently. Alertme's energy management service will soon be able to help by showing you how you use energy - including whether you were at home at the time - and by suggesting how you could save it. By optimising your heating programme, which in the UK (and across the EU) accounts for about 70% of household energy consumption, we'll be able to save you even more energy without you having to lift a finger.

We'll talk about energy saving in more detail in future posts. For now, we should note that Poznań is an important half-way mark in a two-year negotiating process to reach a post-Kyoto climate change deal; the world's best hope for coordinating a response to climate change. The next UN Climate Change Conference is in Copenhagen in December 2009. It is expected to be make-or-break time for an effective successor to the Kyoto Treaty, and if incoming US President Barack Obama follows up on his promises, this time it it may well be led by the US.

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