A secret UK push to weaken key EU climate laws before Brexit risks scotching the bloc’s Paris commitments, MEPs say.
The EU has committed to a 20% cut in its energy use by 2020 to be achieved by two directives, covering energy efficiency and buildings.
But leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Britain is pushing for its 2014-2020 timeline to be stretched backwards four years to count “early actions” taken that comply with the efficiency directive.
Any “excess energy savings” during the law’s writ would then be forwarded to the post-2020 period. MEPs have branded the plan “incomprehensible”.
Benedek Jávor, the vice chair of the European parliament’s environment committee, told the Guardian: “The UK’s proposal to widen ‘flexibilities’ is completely mad and undermines the principle of additionality, as well as the overall ambition of .”
“This approach would risk failure in our efforts to reach even moderately ambitious overall targets, while the higher – and beneficial targets – that we need to strive for could become lost altogether.”
Jávor added that it was “rude” for the UK to weaken climate measures that it would only be bound by during a transition period, before it left the bloc.
Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade and climate spokesman, said: “2018 is the year when countries have been asked by the UN to ratchet up their commitments on climate change. Instead our government is actually proposing to count emissions savings made from as far back as 2010 towards fulfilling their obligations in the next decade from 2021-2030.”
“This sneaky, behind-the-scenes amendment indicates a government that likes to pretend it is a global leader but will not take the strong policy action needed to deliver the necessary change.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “We are asking for clarity on certain energy savings between 2010 and 2013 and agreeing these for the 2020 target. This is not about applying these energy savings post-2020. To suggest otherwise is incorrect and we continue to advocate ambitious future targets.”
The British correspondence with the European council, dated 4 May, proposes allowing EU states to count climate actions taken “in any of the four previous or three following years” towards the energy efficiency directive’s annual 1.5% energy savings obligations.
Any “excess energy savings” between 2014 and 2020 “may count towards the fulfilment of obligations between 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2030”, it says.
The UK tried but failed to have similar loopholes added to the original directive in 2012. The Liberal-Democrat MEP, Catherine Bearder said it “gave the lie” to to be leading a “green revolution”.
“One despairs,” she said. “In the face of Brexit, we really don’t have a leg to stand on. We’re in no position to start issuing demands. This is a carefully crafted agreement to decrease our carbon emissions and make our energy use more efficient. It is disappointing and ludicrous that we would come forward trying to water that down as we head towards the EU’s exit door.”
The EU’s climate goals for 2020 are a staging post to its more ambitious promise to the Paris conference of a 40% emissions cut by 2030.
Europe is expected to easily achieve this, although its CO2 emissions appear to be rising as economic activity picks up, while energy efficiency gains have gone into reverse.
Eurostat figures released last week showed a 1.8% rise in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use in 2017 after a 0.4% fall the year before. Surprisingly though, the UK was the only EU country to reduce its electricity consumption in 2017.
Almost all UK environmental policy currently derives from EU law and the union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has insisted that a ‘non-regression article’ be included in any final EU-UK agreement to prevent backsliding.