Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Meanwhile, in Brussels, Climate Change legislation rumbles on...

I return once again to the glamorous world of citizen-legislative-journalism with a new Think2 post on energy efficiency. You can read it on the Think2 platform here, where there's also lots of interesting coverage of the COP15 conference that's now taking place in Copenhagen.

The appearence of the Danish Text has caused outrage in Copenhagen, and rightly so (I can only hope that it's some sort of diplomatic tactic to concentrate minds and help spur on alliances in order to push a good deal through). Meanwhile, in that other famed *ahem* hotbed of politics, the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers - think of it as the Senate of the EU system), the recasting of building regulations was up for consideration.

Does this matter? Behind every good summit stands an army of bureaucrats rolling their eyes at the paperwork: boring as it may be, these directives and regulations are the much desired practical follow-up and implementation of the lovely political rhetoric we get to hear on climate change.

The proposals themselves aren't overly ambitious, though their aims may sound ambitious: the aim is to recast regulations of the building sector on its energy performance (PDF) in such a way that combines several political objectives. The proposals should increase the energy performance of new buildings and renovated buildings, boost the building sector with some new work through these requirements, help reduce the energy costs of citizens, help to reduce carbon emissions and so help member states meet their international and European commitments on climate change. It would be great if it really had this effect, but though it aims to restrict state aid to building work that doesn't comply with the requirements under the directive (eventually), market forces are still the central element here: the regulation is trying to direct the market in such a way that it dovetails with climate change goals. However, even if the law encourages more building work and economic activity, I doubt that there will be a such a great level of economic activity in this area now (or member state intervention) that the differences made by this law would approach a considerable scale, but it's still a step in the right direction.

It's also important to have action in this area because:

"The buildings sector – i.e. residential and commercial buildings - is the largest user of energy and CO2 emitter in the EU and is responsible for about 40% of the EU's total final energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The sector has significant untapped potential for costeffective energy savings which, if realized, would mean that in 2020 the EU will consume 11% less final energy.

Since the law would be a directive, member states have can choose exactly how to transpose it into their national legal systems (directives require member states to pass national laws giving effect to them, rather than the EU just passing a law and it being law across the EU automatically [though it can do that as well]). This means that the process will be quite slow. The measure was proposed in January 2007 (which perhaps explains the greater faith in the market to some degree), and it still hasn't passed. When it does, member states will have until 31st December 2010 to transpose the law and until 31st January 2012 to fully implement it. Though it's better to get it done right than to have a sloppy law, it hardly gives the same impression of urgency as the rhetoric of the politicans. Considering that the Commission thinks that only 22 member states have implemented the original measure fully, it will probably be a lot longer than 2012 before the law is sorted out properly."

As residential buildings aren't covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme, it would fill a gap in the EU's climate change/emissions strategy.

Still, it reads better at the moment than the state of play at COP15...

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