In October 2022, the European Commission reported that the EU had reached its three 2020 climate and energy targets. This success was not due to EU climate action alone, according to the auditors. As an example, they note that the EU-27 would most likely not have reached its 2020 energy efficiency target without the lower energy consumption resulting from the 2009 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the EU’s assessment of its green performance is not clear about the impact of external factors.
The auditors also found a lack of transparency regarding the way EU member states reached their national binding targets through flexible arrangements: some EU countries did not contribute as expected and used other means to achieve their targets, such as buying emissions allocations or renewable energy shares from other member states that had exceeded their targets. The auditors found little information on the actual cost to the EU budget, national budgets and the private sector of achieving the targets and on the actions that proved successful. This makes it difficult for citizens and stakeholders to determine whether the EU is pursuing its overall targets cost-effectively and to learn lessons for the upcoming 2030 targets.
“We need more transparency on the performance of the EU and its member states on their climate and energy actions” said Joëlle Elvinger, the ECA member who led the audit. “We also believe that all greenhouse gas emissions caused by the EU should be accounted for, including those stemming from trade and international aviation and shipping. This is important as the EU has committed itself to being a global leader in the transition towards climate neutrality”. The auditors confirm that the EU is performing well compared to other industrialised countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the EU does not account for all its emissions, which would be around one tenth higher if those caused by trade, international aviation and shipping were included.
Looking ahead, a particular concern is that there is no sign of sufficient financing being made available to reach the more ambitious 2030 targets, particularly from the private sector, which is expected to contribute significantly. The Commission has also reported that EU countries collectively lack ambition in pursuit of the 2030 energy efficiency target, the corresponding 2020 target having already proven the hardest one to achieve. Some proposals to further raise the 2030 targets (notably the Fit-for-55 and REPowerEU proposals) will further increase financing needs. They also involve assumptions which either do not sufficiently consider known issues (e.g. energy dependency on Russia) or – as previous audits have shown – do not materialise as planned (e.g. that member states will implement existing policies in full).
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