EU sees voluntary deals key to energy cuts

Commission seeks big rise in industry agreements, threatens legal standards otherwise

A wide range of industries should prepare to negotiate EU or national-level voluntary agreements for improved energy efficiency, the European Commission said yesterday in a new EU energy efficiency action plan. It threatened mandatory efficiency standards for industries that did not cooperate. By massively expanding the use of voluntary agreements with industry, the plan seeks to cut EU energy intensity by 12% over the next decade. If achieved, this would meet two-fifths of the bloc's Kyoto protocol commitment to cut greenhouse gases.

The use of voluntary agreements rather than legislation to improve energy efficiency has been pursued by several member states, most notably the Netherlands (ENDS Daily 6 May 1999). There have also been some EU-level deals, most notably an agreement with car makers to reduce average carbon dioxide emissions of new cars by one-third by 2005 (ENDS Daily 6 October 1998). The Commission now says that voluntary agreements on energy and pollution must expand around the EU.

In the plan, the Commission says it will play an increased "supporting and coordinating role" in the process of concluding agreements for industries, and will publish guidelines this year to create an EU-wide "level playing field".

The Commission says it expects the chemical industry to sign an EU-level energy efficiency agreement later this year, while by 2002 the pulp and paper, steel, textile, cement and energy supply industries should sign similar deals. It does not say whether these will be at EU or national level. Steel firms have already refused to contemplate an EU-wide initiative, saying it would be unworkable.

Similar measures are proposed for appliance manufacturers. The Commission says a "large number" of deals should be reached for commercial and industrial equipment, having already signed two agreements to reduce energy use in household equipment. A new framework directive will "facilitate the adoption of mandatory minimum efficiency standards...should it prove necessary," it says.

The action plan is a key part of the EU's climate change strategy announced last month (ENDS Daily 8 March). The Commission says the measures should enable a reduction in energy intensity by 1% beyond "business-as-usual" scenarios each year for 10 years (ENDS Daily 30 April 1998), achieving 40% of the EU's commitment to cut greenhouse gases 8% from 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

Other measures in the plan include new regional funding rules to encourage energy efficiency, while a household appliance energy efficiency labelling scheme already in operation will be expanded and reinforced. Previous plans to introduce a directive on procurement of energy efficiency equipment have been changed in favour of a voluntary approach.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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