UK flouts energy-saving laws; EU should start legal case: campaigners

Energy waste campaigners are calling for Brussels to file legal proceedings against the UK for flouting EU energy-saving laws, following new research by the AEA Ricardo consultancy.

Across Europe, the industry body the Coalition for Energy Savings says that a “disturbing” pattern of poor implementation has emerged from analysis of actions that EU states are taking to meet the bloc’s energy efficiency goals.

An energy wastage league table the group has compiled shows the UK occupying 13th place out of 28 countries. While Britain is on equal points with Greece and the Netherlands, it is far below pace-setters such as Denmark (1st) and Ireland (2nd).

Crucially, it is accused of relying on measures such as an existing building code that predates the EU energy efficiency directive for around half of its CO2-saving efforts. On a bloc-wide basis these measures are supposed to help prevent the equivalent of 94 million tonnes of oil from being burned by 2020.

“Only half of what the UK has done so far is eligible,” Stefan Scheuer, the coalition’s secretary-general told the Guardian. “It is a clear case for the commission to start an investigation with a view to launching an infringement proceeding against the UK for a bad application of EU legislation.”

Brook Riley, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe added: “The UK is in danger of becoming the West Ham of European energy efficiency [middle of the table], when it should be aiming for the Champions League.”

A government spokesman insisted that the new research did not call into question the UK’s ability to meet EU energy efficiency targets. “We have a strong track record on energy demand reduction and are recognised as a global leader in this area,” the spokesman said.

But the UK has been accused of bad behaviour over the directive before, having played hard ball in negotiationsto get an exemption from its binding annual 1.5% energy saving obligation. Before signing up, British negotiators also insisted on a ‘banking and borrowing’ clause that allowed them to count measures taken four years before and three years after the directive’s 2014-2020 remit.

This time, while Germany has lowered its energy savings obligations target, the UK has raised it by 7%. But the coalition analysis indicates this will likely be met by ‘double counting’ savings from the Climate Change Levy.

A quadrupling of energy savings expected from UK policy on climate change agreements in place since 2001 was by the UK’s own admission not “reliable”.

“The UK is trying to outsmart the system by reporting measures which may not go beyond European minimum standards,” said Dora Petroula, an officer at Climate Action Network Europe. “But tackling wasteful energy use will not happen by manoeuvring around the directive’s requirements. With the Paris [UN] climate deal on the horizon, it is high time to get serious about energy efficiency measures.”

Energy-guzzling buildings alone are responsible for some 40% of European carbon emissions and the bloc’s climate commissioner, Miguel Canete, has promised an “energy efficiency first” agenda to tackle the issue.

But European officials have long accused the continent’s energy ministries of talking the talk on efficiency, while in practice seeing energy waste action as a “luxury”, safe in the knowledge that documents submitted to Brussels would rarely be read.

EU sources say that contrary to claims that stronger enforcement of efficiency legislation would be discussed at a summit later this week, a narrowly-defined energy security agenda is likely to dominate the agenda.

The Guardian understands that a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ will probably prevent either energy efficiency or the UK’s preferred shale gas and nuclear solutions to supply problems being openly discussed.

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