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The latest climate change news from WWF

A wind farm near La Calahorra in Andalucia, Spain, at sunset. © Global Warming Images / WWFBrussels, Belgium - 20 June 2018

EU decision-makers agreed to aim for a net zero emissions economy "as soon as possible" in the early hours of this morning. Reaching net zero emissions is urgent if we are to meet the Paris Agreement objective of keeping temperature rise to 1.5°C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The European Commission, EU Council and Parliament were finalising laws on 'Energy Union governance' - that is, the rules and framework governing climate plans and how the EU's 2030 renewables and energy efficiency targets are met.

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office said:
"Finally the EU is waking up to the challenge of climate change. Getting rid of its outdated 80-95% emissions reduction target, and replacing it with a commitment to net zero emissions, is critical for meeting the Paris Agreement goals. The wording agreed this morning is a clear call on the European Commission to come up with pathways to net zero for  2050 and even well before in its mid-century roadmap, due by March 2019."

Disappointingly however, EU decision-makers did not agree on strict rules to ensure the renewables and energy efficiency targets are met.

"The weak rules on enforcing the targets lack teeth. At a time when Europe's renewables investments are shrinking and others are taking the lead in the global market-place, these anaemic rules are the last thing we need," commented Lübbeke.

Yesterday, EU decision-makers agreed on a 32.5% non-binding energy efficiency target, following their deal on a 32% renewables goal for 2030 last week.

Contact:
Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer (renewables and governance), WWF European Policy Office
- amason@wwf.eu, +32 494 762 763

Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office
- sazau@wwf.eu, +32 473 573 137
Posted: June 20, 2018, 12:00 am
UN Secretary General speaking at the UN about the Paris Agreement ratification. © UN PhotoBrussels, Belgium - 19 June 2018

EU decision-makers reached agreement this evening on a 32.5% target for energy savings by 2030. This is higher than the European Commission's original proposal, but lower than the 35% European Parliament wanted and considerably less than what is required to be in line with the Paris Agreement's temperature goals.

Several Energy Ministers, including from France, Italy, Spain and Sweden supported a higher energy efficiency target at their recent meeting, but unfortunately this was not enough for it to become the EU Council's official position. The target can be revised in 2023.

The target is non-binding, contrary to what was proposed by the European Commission and supported by the European Parliament.

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office said:
"This low, non-binding 2030 energy efficiency target will go down in the history books as a missed opportunity, despite the best efforts of the European Parliament and several progressive Member States. It puts the EU far off course in terms of the Paris Agreement, climate action, cleaner air and better jobs."

EU decision-makers also reviewed the rule that sets a compulsory level of annual energy savings, but barely increased its ambition. The current rule requires Member States to deliver 1.5% energy savings each year, but because of loopholes such as it not being compulsory to include energy used in transport, it only delivers half of that. The deal reached tonight keeps the existing loopholes and clarifies that with them, the real rate of energy savings Member States will have to deliver is 0.8%.

"What's more, despite the clear need for faster emissions reductions, the energy savings rule is basically the same as before. It's another wasted chance to boost climate action, since the rule is binding and so Member States have to deliver on it," added Lübbeke.

This evening there is another trilogue discussion on the Energy Union governance regulation, which sets the rules and framework for how countries meet their renewables and energy efficiency targets, including on a possible net zero emissions target for 2050. Last week, EU decision-makers agreed on a low, 32% renewables target for 2030 and weak bioenergy rules which will allow ever more trees and crops to be burnt for energy, increasing greenhouse gas emissions even more than fossil fuels would do.

Contact:
Arianna Vitali, Senior Policy Officer (energy efficiency), WWF European Policy Office, avitali@wwf.eu, +32 2 743 88 16
Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer (renewables and governance), WWF European Policy Office, amason@wwf.eu, +32494762763
Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office, sazau@wwf.eu, +32 473 573 137
Posted: June 19, 2018, 12:00 am
Gas power station, Scotland © Global Warming Images / WWFBrussels, Belgium - 19 June 2018

The European Banking Authority should assess whether banks could be made to measure the financial risk of assets like coal, oil and gas, according to a European Parliament committee vote today.

If banks are made to reveal the financial risk of unsustainable assets, the costs of those assets will go up, making them less attractive, so the MEPs' position could be good for the climate.  

MEPs were voting on a package of legislative proposals from the European Commission that aim to make the banking system more stable: the Capital Requirements Regulation and its accompanying directive (CRR-CRD).

MEPs will also consider, in their trilogue negotiations with the EU Commission and Council to finalise the banking laws, whether to include climate risk in the list that supervisors use to challenge banks on financial risks. Doing so would make it much easier to track whether banks are investing in assets which harm or help the climate.

Sébastien Godinot, Economist at WWF European Policy Office commented:
"Reducing financial support for fossil fuels is one of the most effective ways of fighting climate change and moving to a renewable energy system. This is why WWF urges the European Commission and Council to support the Parliament's position on banks and financial risk when the three institutions finalise the capital requirements legislation, and calls on the European Banking Authority to produce its assessment swiftly. 

"We urge MEPs to take their sustainable credentials a step further, and say financial supervisors should include climate risk assessment in their daily work, bringing such risk to front of stage," continued Godinot. "This is hardly a radical position - it is supported by many supervisors themselves! We call on all MEPs to address this issue in the trilogue negotiations." 

Further information:
The EU Council adopted its position on the CRR-CRD on 22 May. The European Parliament approved a negotiating mandate today, which will be formally announced in plenary in the first week of July. Following that, a first trilogue discussion will take place also in July. Since the incoming Austrian Presidency of the European Council has said this file is a priority, it will likely aim for agreement by the end of its term in December 2018. 

If the European Banking Authority report says banks should assess the financial risk of unsustainable assets, the next European Commission could propose legislative changes to this effect. If it did so in the early part of its next mandate, by 2020, these changes would have to be approved by Member States and the European Parliament and could enter into force a few years later.

Contact:
Sébastien Godinot, Economist, WWF European Policy Office
sgodinot@wwf.eu +32 489 461 314

Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office
sazau@wwf.eu +32 473 573 137
Posted: June 19, 2018, 12:00 am
Flooded areas of the Dongting Lake, Hunan Province, China. © Michel Gunther / WWFBrussels, Belgium - 13 June 2018

EU decision-makers reached agreement in the middle of the night on an unambitious Renewable Energy Directive with rules on bioenergy that put both the climate and forests worldwide at risk. They adopted a low, 32% renewables target that is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement's goal to keep temperature rise to 1.5°C, and bioenergy rules that will allow ever more trees and crops to be burnt for energy, increasing greenhouse gas emissions even more than fossil fuels would do.

Yesterday, decision-makers failed to reach agreement on the Energy Efficiency Directive, with the European Parliament's position remaining more progressive than that of the EU Council.  In the next talks the Council should be ready to move forward and accept a higher binding energy efficiency target and a more effective annual energy savings rule.

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office said:
"Going for a renewables target that is barely above business-as-usual is a spectacular failure by the EU. It will undermine jobs, the economy and the climate in one fell swoop. Renewables will continue to gain market share because they make economic sense, but the EU has missed its chance to boost them further through a strong and binding target, and reap the benefits for its citizens and industry.

"And the elephant in the room when it comes to the Renewable Energy Directive is bioenergy", continued Lübbeke. "Despite valiant efforts by the Parliament's Green Rapporteur Bas Eickhout, the EU has adopted rules on biofuels and forest biomass that will likely increase emissions compared to fossil fuels and so make climate change worse. In doing so, EU policy makers have disregarded science and set a terrible example to the rest of the world. They should hang their heads in shame at this disgraceful decision, which WWF believes will in time have to be reversed."

Contact:
Arianna Vitali, Senior Policy Officer (energy efficiency), WWF European Policy Office, avitali@wwf.eu, +32 2 743 88 16
Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer (renewables and governance), WWF European Policy Office, amason@wwf.eu, +32 494 762 763
Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office, sazau@wwf.eu, +32 473 573 137
Posted: June 14, 2018, 12:00 am
Wind turbines © Michel Gunther / WWFEnergy ministers are meeting today in Luxembourg to discuss the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Directives and their 2030 targets, as well as the Governance Regulation. 

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy, WWF European Policy Office commented on the meeting:

"It's great to see that a growing number of countries have spoken in favour of higher energy efficiency and renewables targets. Unfortunately, some others keep hiding behind the word 'flexibility' -  a buzzword of today's Energy Council - to slow down progress on the Clean Energy Package."

"In fact, we need both: high targets and credible, strong measures to implement them, if we are serious about advancing the transition to clean energy in Europe.  To be in line with the Paris Agreement, the EU must increase its overall effort, as well as improve actions in all sectors, as soon as possible."

WWF had called on ministers to revise their positions on the target levels, currently 30% for energy efficiency and 27% for renewables.

The Energy Council's position will be taken forward by the Bulgarian Presidency to finalise negotiations in trilogues - scheduled for 13 June in Strasbourg - with the European Parliament, who is sticking to 35% targets for both efficiency and renewables. On the Governance Regulation the next trilogue is scheduled for the 19th June.
Posted: June 11, 2018, 12:00 am
Will Energy Ministers walk their talk on climate? © WWF European Policy Office / CartoonBaseBrussels, Belgium - 7 June 2018

What's happening?
Energy ministers will discuss the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Directives and their 2030 targets, as well as the Governance Regulation on Monday 11 June in Luxembourg. It is an opportunity for ministers to revise their positions on the target levels, currently 30% for energy efficiency and 27% for renewables, while the European Parliament is sticking to 35% for both. The Energy Council's position will be taken forward by the Bulgarian Presidency to finalise negotiations in trilogues - scheduled for 13 June - with the European Parliament.

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy, WWF European Policy Office commented:
"Having started off on the wrong foot, with weak positions on renewables and energy efficiency, Member States now have a chance to shuffle forward in the Parliament's direction. Several have spoken out in favour of higher ambition: the ministers of those countries need to stand up and stand firm next Monday, remembering science, citizens and costs are on their side, and convince the laggards to come on board.

"How these headline targets are met is also crucial. As top climate scientists warned just this week, the rules on biomass could actually increase emissions not reduce them. And on energy efficiency strong measures, such as the annual energy savings requirement, are a necessary complement to the target.  

"Ambitious action on climate is not just about sticking to our international Paris Agreement pledges - although that should be reason enough to do so. It is about ensuring our survival in a hospitable world which offers sustainable jobs in a healthy environment," concluded Lübbeke.

Further information:

Energy Efficiency Directive

Ministers will discuss how far to raise the energy efficiency target and whether they could support a binding one.  

They will also look at improving their position on the 'energy savings obligation' - which sets mandatory annual energy savings for Member States (EED Art.7). For example, they will need to decide how far they will go in reducing the loopholes they had previously suggested, such as the exclusion of transport energy use from the obligation.

In addition to countries that already support higher targets such as France, Sweden, Luxembourg and Portugal, the new Energy Ministers of Spain and Italy could inject new positive dynamics into the discussions as they are believed to be much more supportive of energy efficiency (and renewables) than their predecessors.  

See NGO briefing on the final negotiations on the Energy Efficiency Directive

Renewable Energy Directive

The Council wants the Parliament to choose between a higher target for renewables and stronger measures underpinning it - a completely false choice. As negotiators in the Parliament understand, both are necessary. The Council is also fighting hard to water down rules on bioenergy - so that they can increase production of food based biofuels from around 4% today up to 7% in 2030, and convert old coal-fired power stations to burn wood - something that top climate scientists warned just this week is likely to increase emissions not reduce them.

In addition to the overall targets other outstanding issue that will be discussed are the targets for renewables in transport and in heating and cooling, and rules on self-consumption. The Council is also likely to discuss the Parliament's call for biofuels with especially high emissions, such as from palm oil or soy, to be phased out immediately.  

Governance Regulation

Issues that will be discussed are those provisions linked to the targets, such as gap filler mechanism for energy efficiency and renewables and the trajectory for reaching the renewables target. Perhaps the most thorny issue will however be in relation to the long term strategies, where the Council and Parliament are far apart. The Parliament has sought to bring those aspects of the Governance Regulation in line with Paris, by requiring strategies to be based on reaching zero net emissions by 2050 and for Member States to finalise their strategies before they finalise their shorter term 2030 plans.

Contact:
  • Arianna Vitali, Senior Policy Officer (energy efficiency), WWF European Policy Office, avitali@wwf.eu, +32 2 743 88 16
  • Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer (renewables and governance), WWF European Policy Office, amason@wwf.eu, +32494762763
  • Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office,
  • sazau@wwf.eu, +32473573137
Posted: June 7, 2018, 12:00 am
Tallship and wind farm © WWF/Ted HoltToday the European Commission proposed a new fund aimed at mobilising €650 billion to finance 'sustainable infrastructure' such as wind farms and the energy renovation of buildings. The 'InvestEU' fund, which will run from from 2021 to 2027, is the continuation of the Juncker Plan's European Fund for Strategic Investments. It will also focus on R&D, social issues and SMEs.

Sébastien Godinot, Economist at WWF European Policy Office said:
"The Juncker Investment Plan had a dubious track record, with billions spent on fossil fuels and high carbon transport. For InvestEU the European Commission proposes a 50% climate and environment target and 'sustainability proofing', which sounds excellent, but this will apply only to the infrastructure funding , and there is little detail on how sustainability will be ensured. We would like the Commission to clarify that InvestEU will not support fossil fuels."

The InvestEU fund is a 'guarantee' fund, meaning it will be used to guarantee the loans that finance the selected projects.

It is now up to the European Parliament and EU Council to amend the Commission's legislative proposal. The Commission would like to finalise the legislation before the Parliament's election in Spring 2019.

Contact:
Sébastien Godinot, Economist, WWF European Policy Office
sgodinot@wwf.eu +32 489 461 314

Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office
sazau@wwf.eu +32 473 573 137
Posted: June 6, 2018, 12:00 am
European Parliament  © WWF / Frank PaulBrussels, Belgium - 29 May 2018

The European Parliament supported bringing climate risk in finance into the open today, voting in favour of a strong own initiative report on sustainable finance. Today's plenary vote followed the European Commission's sustainable finance action plan of March 2018 and the Commission's first subsequent legislative proposals of 24 May.

Sébastien Godinot, Economist at WWF European Policy Office commented:
"Like the citizens they represent, MEPs want to move further and faster to redirect private finance towards activities which are fully sustainable. Several of their demands - like checking whether financial institutions' portfolios are aligned with the Paris Agreement - are more ambitious than the Commission's legislative proposals, which were already a step forward.

"The European Parliament's bold views on sustainable finance bode well for the upcoming discussions on those proposals. It is now up to the Member States to match this level of ambition!"

The European Parliament's report includes the following recommendations, which go further than the European Commission's proposals:
  • European Supervisory Authorities should carry out climate scenario analyses to check whether the portfolios of financial institutions are aligned with the Paris Agreement on climate change;
  • Institutional investors like pension funds should be required to ask clients and beneficiaries for their environmental and social preferences and take these into account;
  • Climate disclosure should be mandatory, building on the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
  • Climate disclosure should be required for all retail financial products, such as the saving funds proposed to households and private consumers.
The European Parliament and EU Council will soon begin discussions on the Commission's recent legislative proposal on investor duties. The Commission is due to publish another proposal, on the Invest EU Fund, on 6 June.

Contact:
Sébastien Godinot, Economist, WWF European Policy Office
sgodinot@wwf.eu +32 489 461 314

Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office
sazau@wwf.eu +32 473 573 137
Posted: May 29, 2018, 12:00 am
Burning trees for energy harms forests and the climate © Adam Lawnik/WWF
The EU's biomass plans could lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, warns a new report from the same UK government agency which helped the European Commission develop its original bioenergy proposals.

The new report argues that the proposed EU Renewable Energy Directive, which is currently being finalised, contains hardly any of the biomass sustainability criteria that are needed to reduce emissions. This means that increased bioenergy use would likely increase emissions and harm the climate, rather than protect it.

Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office, said:
"This is a damning report from the very experts the Commission hired to help it develop its proposals. It's yet more evidence that the biomass sustainability criteria in the Renewable Energy Directive are seriously flawed. Burning trees instead of coal is complete madness and will make climate change worse not better."

"During the trilogue negotiations on the Directive the Member States and the Parliament must take steps to limit the damage - for example by preventing old, inefficient coal plants from converting to biomass. Member States must also be allowed to apply stricter criteria at national level - that's now the only way to ensure that biomass delivers genuine emissions reductions compared to fossil fuels."

Linde Zuidema, Fern Senior Policy Advisor, said:
"This report offers compelling evidence supporting warnings made by Fern and others for years: burning wood for bioenergy can lead to high greenhouse gas emissions. As EU countries enter the final weeks of negotiations for a new renewable energy policy, it is a warning they can simply no longer ignore.
 
"An important topic that is still to be decided on, is to what extent EU countries will be able to grant public support to wood burning in large inefficient power stations. This report should urge countries to take a firm position on this".

For WWF, key findings in the report include the following:
  • Some types of bioenergy increase greenhouse gas emissions significantly compared to burning fossil fuels, including coal.
  • Without appropriate sustainability criteria a significant increase in bioenergy use in the EU is likely to increase emissions not reduce them.
  • But the Renewable Energy Directive contains hardly any of the sustainability criteria needed to stop that happening - only 3 of the 15 criteria identified in the report are effectively covered.
  • If this isn't fixed then Member States will have to apply additional sustainability criteria at national level to ensure biomass delivers genuine emissions reductions.

The Forest Research report is published as the 'trilogue' negotiations in Brussels on the Renewable Energy Directive reach crunch time. The Member States and Parliament meet this Thursday for a trilogue negotiation on the directive, so they still have a chance to make changes to the proposals. Member States are also likely to discuss the directive on 11 June in Energy Council.

More information:

Read the report

Background to the report

Forest Research is the Research Agency of the Forestry Commission, which is a non-ministerial UK government department responsible for forestry in England and Scotland. Forest Research describes itself in the report as "the leading UK organisation engaged in forestry and tree related research".

Forest Research (hereafter 'FR') was employed by the European Commission to carry out detailed modelling on bioenergy and the resulting report, titled "Carbon impacts of biomass consumed in the EU" was published in December 2015. The contents of that report were drawn on heavily by the European Commission in preparing its impact assessment on the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which was published by the Commission in November 2016.

When the Commission's RED proposals and impact assessment were published, they appeared to be based on a very incomplete interpretation of the original FR report. The Commission essentially emphasised that total EU emissions fell under all scenarios (even though this was not necessarily due to bioenergy) and ignored the warnings in the report and other Commission produced or Commission-funded studies on the potential for some sources of bioenergy to increase rather than reduce emissions. The RED thus contained no restrictions on the types of forest biomass that could be burnt for energy and no effective GHG accounting framework that would have excluded high risk sources. The proposals were strongly criticised at the time by WWF and other environmental NGOs, and earlier this year MEPs were urged by nearly 800 scientists, including IPCC lead authors and winners of the US medal of science and Nobel prize, to amend the proposals and restrict biomass incentives to wastes and residues.

The RED proposals are currently in trilogue negotiations between the Parliament and Council. As attempts to improve the sustainability criteria in the RED by progressive political groups in the Parliament (by excluding stumps and roundwood) were defeated, there is every chance that the revised RED will continue to incentivise a big expansion in the use of forest biomass for energy. However there are still some provisions under discussion that could limit the damage, for example on the requirement that biomass be burnt in efficient combined heat and power plants, that Member States be allowed to apply tougher sustainability criteria at national level, and that the Commission review the impact of the new rules in in 2023 (the Council wants to delay that until 2026).

Direct quotes from the report:
  • "Using all of the stemwood from forests (i.e. from all of early thinnings, later thinnings and from clearfelling) directly for energy leads to net increases in GHG emissions, even compared to burning coal."
  • "Unless appropriate policy measures are taken to support sustainable bioenergy supply (in terms of impacts on GHG emissions), particularly in the case of forest bioenergy supply, a significant increase in bioenergy use in the EU is likely to lead to a net increase, rather than decrease, in GHG emissions being contributed from bioenergy sources."
  • "The RED II makes no specific provisions for 9 out of the 15 recommended criteria. For 3 of the 15 recommended criteria the RED II might be expected to deliver some indirect, but non-specific, support. In 3 of the 15 recommended criteria, the RED will deliver a direct policy signal."
  • "It is important that those countries seeking to implement the RED II are aware of the relevance of the above sustainability criteria for the implementation of the RED II, because if the EU bioenergy policy is to meet its stated goal of reducing GHG emissions, such criteria will need to be implemented within national policy."
Contact:

Alex Mason, WWF European Policy Office amason@wwf.eu +32494762763
Sarah Azau, WWF European Policy Office sazau@wwf.eu +32473573137
Linde Zuidema, Fern linde@fern.org +32472955220
Posted: May 28, 2018, 12:00 am
Investors won't have to disclose on Paris Agreement alignment © Global Warming Images / WWFBrussels, Belgium - 24 May 2018

Today's sustainable finance proposals from the European Commission would encourage more sustainable investments. The proposals are the first steps towards implementing some of the recommendations of the EU's High-Level Expert Group on sustainable finance.

One proposal would require investors to ask for their clients' environmental and social preferences and act upon them, which for WWF is an important development. The Commission puts forward a specific proposal on low carbon indices - which would allow investors to be sure that their money is going into specifically low emissions stocks - but stops short, for now, of requiring investors to disclose whether the large 'business as usual' indices they use align with the Paris Agreement.
 
Green investments would also now be tracked, based on a list - put forward in another Commission proposal on 'taxonomy' - of what is considered 'environmentally-friendly'. This is another welcome measure. WWF is also calling for a 'brown' taxonomy to be added over time, to clarify what unsustainable investments are, as recently called for by the French central bank. Doing so would provide a fuller picture of the investments being made.

Sébastien Godinot, Economist at WWF European Policy Office said:
"Today's proposals by the Commission will strengthen the market for sustainable finance, despite some limitations. The ball's now in the court of MEPs and Member States to support, strengthen and turn the planned laws into a tool for consumers to re-direct their money into sustainable assets and avoid those which harm the planet."

The proposal on investor duties will now be discussed in the European Parliament and in Council, with the aim to finalise it at the latest by the 2019 EU elections.

For the EU sustainable taxonomy, the Commission will select a Technical Expert Group in the coming weeks that will develop it. It will start publishing parts of the taxonomy in the beginning of 2019.

Contact:
Sébastien Godinot, Economist, WWF European Policy Office
sgodinot@wwf.eu +32 489 461 314

Sarah Azau, Senior Communications Officer, WWF European Policy Office
sazau@wwf.eu +32 473 573 137
Posted: May 24, 2018, 12:00 am
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