Baby-steps towards a zero-carbon power sector

Article published on March 27, 2012
Article published on March 27, 2012
By Bibbi Abruzzini Every time we burn fossil fuels to create energy, silent poisons, and noxious substances - namely Greenhouse gases- are released into the atmosphere. Intoxicated plants and trees have no chance of soaking it up; to avoid apocalyptic repercussions, The European Union gives the green light to the ambitious target of a 80-95% decarbonised power sector by 2050.
On 15th March, the European Parliament voted in favor of the European Commission's roadmap to a competitive low-carbon economy.

War on carbon dioxide is declared. No economy in history has taken such a strong decision in terms of economic development, innovation and “decarbonisation”. Europe is in pole position towards the establishment of a greener economy but the low- carbon roadmap will deliver a set of challenges not easy to deal with.

Back to the future: European short-term and long-term targets

If our habits do not change, the overall temperature of the planet might increase by as much as 4°C by 2100 with all the cataclysmic repercussions attached. With the "Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050", Europe is looking beyond the short-term targets of Europe 2020 which included reducing emissions to 20% below 1990 levels and raising the share of renewables in its energy mix to 20%. In order to enable the transition to a zero-carbon power sector, a number of short-term objectives have been set up.

Europe 2020 will be followed by the report Power Perspectives 2030 examining the challenges and solutions in order to remain on track to full decarbonisation by 2050. European short-term actions will determine the success or failure of our future low-carbon economy. Binding targets and direct support by member states will reduce the large number of uncertainties and will give enough confidence to markets and citizens. One thing is certain: by declaring a reduction of domestic emissions by 80 to 95% by mid-century, Europe seems ready to move forward, sending a strong signal to the international community.

Roadmap 2050 explanation

The roadmap is a starting point for policy makers and various stakeholders to identify effective measures and to make appropriate energy choices, destination a carbon-free economy. It is a kind of guide, a Jiminy Cricket who will help member states taking the right decisions. The analysis is based on five illustrative decarbonisation scenarios, created by combining in different ways the four main decarbonisation routes – energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Every national government will then be free to choose their 'favorite combo' with the roadmap setting out the implications and giving an overview of the challenges to expect depending on the scenario chosen. Even though none of the scenarios is likely to exactly materialize, the roadmap identifies a number of elements, a set of "golden rules" or best practices, which have positive impacts in all circumstances yielding some key conclusions to help shape decarbonisation strategies.

Pro and against: are 398 votes enough to change the world?

The roadmap was adopted by the European Parliament with 398 for, 132 against, 104 abstentions. Many are now worried that the cost of green energy together with a zero-carbon economy will make Europe uncompetitive and that it will not be enough to mitigate the current environmental crisis. In contrast, the rapporteur, Chris Davies (ALDE, UK) argues that “The more we do now the easier it will be in the future. Either we take a lead in promoting a low carbon economy or we get left behind. This is an opportunity to promote investment and stimulate technological innovation. It will leave Europe stronger not weaker.” Such an ambitious target will surely shape the world, affecting both the market and the environment. Time only will reveal if Europe is indeed 'the One' who will teach the world a lesson on how to be competitive but fair-play with the environment.