A Look at Post-Copenhagen EU

In the month of December 2009, all eyes were on the capital of Denmark – Copenhagen. Never have people met so many variations of a name in the media: Hopenhagen and Brokenhagen being some amongst many. Before the ‘great event’, the media was the drive behind the hype, publishing article after article which stated the same thing but under a different headline (see my previous post on the issue). This did not change after the Conference, with headlines such as :

“The Road From Copenhagen” – by Frank Loy and Michael Levi

“Copenhagen, and Beyond” – an editorial in the NYTimes

“Copenhagen failure ‘disappointing’, ‘shameful’” – EU Observer.

The truth is that the meeting which took place can be viewed and criticized by anyone who reads the news. Yet, the facts are these – high expectations before the meeting were met with a limited outcome agreement, named the “Copenhagen Accord”. What most people seem to think is that the world ended and nothing will be done about climate change anymore. This view is not only wrong, but completely superfluous.

In the European Union, where the strongest commitments to the fight against climate change are happening, there is no freeze in action, and negotiations amongst the member states continue. There is a clear target which has to be met – the famous “20-20-20” scenario, where the EU member states have to achieve 20% renewable energy contribution, 20% energy efficiency and 20% reduction in emissions by 2020. Some might say that is ambitious and unrealistic. But a closer look tells another story.

In a hypothetical situation, let us assume that an office wants to cut costs by reducing use of paper and paper-related materials. If they set a target of 5%, they will have to do very little – write on both sides of the paper, re-use paper clips etc. With a target of 20% though, more needs to be done. If the target is 50%, a complete re-organization of the system is required. Now, transfer these arguments to the EU goal. It becomes obvious that the target set by the Kyoto Protocol (5.2%) was easily achieved by initiating simple actions. When it comes to 20%, or even the long-term target of 90% by 2050, we can see that the action which has to be taken is not simple, but a completely innovative and re-structured system is needed to achieve these goals.

This analysis is supported by recent headlines such as: “Gigantic offshore grid to link up north-western Europe” – by Valentina Pop in the EU Observer, 06 Jan 2010. One can also refer back to the DESERTEC project, which has been highly scrutinized (also refer to my previous post on the topic). The idea behind this transnational project is to create a smart electricity network between renewable energy producing sites in Germany, Great Britain, France, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg. The aim is to eliminate the negative aspects of renewable energy sources – their inconsistency because of irregular wind, sun and tidal activity. This would make sure that, for example, when the wind is blowing strong in Denmark and Germany, but there is no sun in Belgium, electricity distribution can be evened out and remain constant. Since this is a 30-billion euro project, financing will come from energy firms, which still have to be brought into the negotiations.

The question here is how can this transnational system be agreed on so easily? The answer comes from the high degree of cooperation which exists between these countries because of their participation in the EU and its internal market. Without it, this project would be extremely hard to coordinate. This is also the answer as to why the EU is the leader in renewable energy development – it can place different installations in different places, connect them, and share the benefits across national borders. So far, this idea has been introduced when it came to another energy resource – natural gas. Because of the disruptions caused by an unsteady supply from Russia in the past several years, there is increasing pressure to introduce a single market for the resource, so that there can be security of supply. With projects like the one described above, there can be a secure supply of electricity from renewable energy sources as well.

With the end of the meeting at Copenhagen and the coming of the New Year 2010 there has not been a change in the priorities of the EU. The targets are the same and the action is still needed just as much as before. Whether the internal market is used for security of gas supply or electricity from renewable sources is up to the member states. The fact remains that infrastructure projects such as the one agreed by the north-western member states should serve as a model for the others, especially those in the south-east who are not so used to cooperating with each other, but have the same framework to use. It is easy to see what changes have to happen, but how fast they can come about is another issue which remains to be seen.

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