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Doubling Down on European Energy Efficiency

The European Commission is nearing a moment of truth as it sets energy-efficiency benchmarks to comply with the COP21 climate agreement: Will it set ambitious but attainable targets that force people and industry to make real changes; or will it set meaningless targets that would have been reached anyway with no additional effort?

BRUSSELS – At the COP21 conference in Paris last December, world leaders made a binding pledge to set national targets, including energy-efficiency benchmarks, for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Now, the European Commission is nearing a moment of truth: Will it set ambitious but attainable energy efficiency targets that will force individuals and industry to make real changes? Or will it bend to political pressure and set meaningless targets that will be reached anyway, with no any additional effort?

The latter approach was taken in 2014, when European leaders agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% before 2030. The European Council was applauded at the time for its leadership. Nobody bothered to mention that global energy efficiency was already likely to increase by around 35% on its own by 2030.

The COP21 agreement has given Europe a second chance to set an example and become the global standard-bearer for energy efficiency. Environmentalists, business leaders, and academics are awaiting new targets from the European Commission, which will most likely be established in October, in a forthcoming revision to the Commission’s Energy Efficiency Directive.

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