The European Commission released their highly anticipated Fit for 55 package just before the summer break, and it is of utmost importance that we act fast and get all the details right from the beginning. The proposals did not arrive a moment too soon and perhaps the most fitting reminder of the urgency required was the extreme weather hitting Europe in the weeks following the release of the Fit for 55 package: one side drowning in torrential rain and another burning in scorching heat. Amidst the waves of devastation, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that extreme weather events like these are around to stay given that limiting warming below 1.5 °C is no longer a realistic option.
However, the climate battle is not lost yet. Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency released a report showing that net-zero by 2050 is still achievable – but the path to getting there is becoming narrower by the day. Limiting warming to below 2.0 °C and as close as possible to 1.5 °C requires massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which can only be achieved by accelerating the uptake of renewable energy.
There is simply no time for setbacks in the coming decade. Fit for 55, a truly gigantic package, is our opportunity to set in place the legislation to address the many challenges we are facing.
We know that we are on the right track because renewable energy has been growing and showing its potential for the past years. Yet the pace of change is not even close to being fast enough. However great the developments have been for renewable energy, our current methods of rolling out energy projects will not be enough to save us. The only way forward is to drastically increasing the pace. Getting the results we aim for will require increased collaboration between member states, ensuring real European solutions to our most urgent common problem.
The proposal for the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive seems to take on the need for increased cross-border collaboration by including measures such as requiring every member state to launch a cross-border initiative and a joint planning approach to offshore energy per sea basin. These are both great steps in the right direction but we should be doing much more to incentivise and facilitate cross-border projects.
As renewable energy projects become bigger and more complex, our energy systems will grow more interconnected. We need to make sure that member states are ready to exploit the synergies between the different systems at every possible point.
Supporting resources should be available so that all member states are able to keep up and that no member state is postponing developments due to lack of experience.
Another area lacking behind in the proposal is permitting. Permitting procedures are the biggest hurdle standing in the way of an appropriate rollout of renewable energy. As it stands, projects take unnecessarily long time to be granted permits, and the procedures are different from one country to the next. This is not only a problem on its own due to it pushing the lead time far forward into the future, but the problem is likely to be aggravated over time, as we expect increasingly more complex projects, some of which will also span across multiple countries. The difficulty and excruciating length of the processes are keeping us from reaching our goals in time. The bottom line is that if we do not address permitting differently, we will not be able to succeed. The proposal acknowledges the shortcomings of the current permitting processes but lacks concrete initiatives which can improve the status of permitting.
A different approach will include streamlining of the process and removal of unnecessary red tape, while also involving more regional cooperation and moving towards a homogenous approach.
In terms of targets the proposal features a new higher target of 40% renewable energy by 2030. Although the Commission is making the effort to be ambitious, it falls short of what is needed. The numbers and several experts point towards a 45% target not only being needed, but being feasible with current technologies. Given that the technology is available, we need to ensure we have the political will to follow through.
The RED revision will play a central role in the Fit for 55 package by ensuring that the proper uptake of renewable energy will be at the core of the green transition. In order to succeed, the focus should remain solely on renewable energy. Despite the potential interest for it, fossil fuels and low-carbon gasses need to be kept out of directive at all costs. Keeping the high level of ambitions means a lot of hard work and many arduous fights with MEPs and Member States but it is a fight worth fighting for.