To the attention of Mr Romano Prodi
President of the European Commission
Dear Mr President,
The summer's heat waves had profound and tragic consequences across Europe. Most of the Member States' governments were unable to tackle either the causes or effects of these events and the credibility of the European Institutions itself is now at stake. We cannot forget that these events come after the floods in Central Europe last summer and coincide with large floods in other parts of the world.
The European Commission — with its rights of initiative and as guardian of the Treaty — must play a key role in finding and implementing a solution to the serious problem of climate change. Urgent action to protect our environment is needed now more than ever before, and with it revision of medium and long term policies in this area.
We must, in short, introduce a 'stability pact' for climate change. Studies by the EU's environmental agency show that some Member States, including Portugal, Spain Italy and Ireland, are largely failing to take on their share of the burden of meeting pollution targets — whereas states such as Germany and the UK are on track to meet their Kyoto commitments. For this reason Europe is likely to experience severe difficulties in achieving its overall Kyoto commitment.
It is not acceptable that Europe so slavishly respects its economic stability and growth pact yet at the same time fails to seek stability for climate change and the environment. Does the Commission envisage ever bringing its significant powers to bear on those Member States that fail to seriously tackle climate change?
The most critical aspect of climate policy that must now be addressed is the transport sector, including both road and air transport. The Italian Presidency's initiative on Trans-European infrastructure networks is extremely misguided and not at all compatible with the responses needed to deal with climate change. The primary solution to meeting transport needs in an enlarged European Single Market is to direct investment and funds towards sustainable transport means like rail transport and waterways. Only a massive investment in the missing freight railway corridors can achieve the necessary balance between internal market needs and environmental considerations.
A cheap and reliable railway-based freight transport also lies at the heart of a political compromise between the Member States. We must not forget that our citizens suffer the environmental and health problems of rising freight transport while at the same time acknowledge the geographical realities of those economies based in the peripheral areas of the EU. The deal reached yesterday between the Commission and the German government on the introduction of a toll system in Germany to partially finance new railway infrastructure could serve as an example for Europe as a whole. The EU must also create a credible alternative to the growing intra-EU air transport sector. Here, similar financing models to those used in freight transport are needed.
This summer also showed that large parts of Europe's power producing industry are extremely vulnerable to insufficient supplies of water coolant. In fact, the average efficiency of existing nuclear and coal fire power plants is failing to reach even 35%, effectively meaning that they are significantly better at heating air and water than at producing electricity. That France's nuclear power plants were faced recently with the option of either shutting down completely or discharging boiling water into nearby rivers only adds to the wealth of evidence that suggests that nuclear power generation is a dinosaur of the last century. It is more dangerous today than it is worth and totally incompatible with Europe's commitments to sustainable development and sustainable energy.
The key to establishing sustainable power production in Europe is dependent on the rapid phasing-in of renewables and a reduction of its energy consumption. There are no real technological, commercial or resource limits constraining the development of renewable energy, yet the EU is still not on track to achieve its agreed target of doubling the renewable share of the energy market by 2010. Indeed, targets alone have little purpose if they are not accompanied by policies which seek to create a level playing field in energy markets, eliminate barriers and create an environment which attracts investment capital. The EU must work to implement such policies and remove such barriers. We must additionally look beyond 2010 towards adopting a mandatory target of ensuring 25% of Europe's energy is clean and renewable by 2020.
More than 100,000 jobs have been created in the renewable energy sector in Europe over the last three years. The Commission has been the main driving force behind this positive development. However, in the short term, at least two new EU initiatives are needed to sustain a competitive European renewable industry:
- The Commission should give a decisive commitment to a large-scale industrial development of offshore wind during the forthcoming Irish and Dutch Presidencies.
- Industrial investments must be supported in the solar thermal sector. Solar energy for low temperature needs like heating and cooling is technically available but the break through today is limited to countries such as Austria or Greece.
In addition to the phasing in of renewables, Europe must reduce its energy consumption. After the first oil crisis European governments were successful in curbing energy demand. In the light of climate change, the Union now needs ambitious policies and measures in order to achieve a reduction of energy consumption by one per cent annually. In particular we urge the Commission to propose directives that contain legally binding product standards, mandatory efficiency standards for all electrical appliances, improved efficiency labelling schemes and public procurement schemes to support the most efficient and clean products. The cogeneration directive must contain legally binding targets so that the EU will double the market share of energy coming from cogeneration sources by 2012. Inefficient appliances, office equipment and engines are not only bad for the environment but also seriously harm the competitiveness of the economy.
As European research on light vehicles demonstrates there is also plenty of scope for reducing the weight of private cars and subsequently their energy consumption. The voluntary agreements in place at present (between the European car industry and the EU) do not allow Europe to fulfil its obligations under the Kyoto agreement and are a major contributor to air pollution and climate change. New mandatory agreements are needed in this area — the sooner the better.
Households and commerce alone account for 20% of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in Europe. New efforts are needed in building design and construction, in particular in the accession countries. Through adapted architectural methods (including heating and cooling requirements) it is technically possible today to dramatically reduce the energy needs of a building.
We are convinced that you share our concerns about climate change and want to do everything in your power to prevent the turbulent and tragic weather events that Europe has recently experienced. The Commission has both the right and the duty to improve the EU's attitude and actions towards climate change. We expect your work on this issue to begin without delay.