France secured a concession on nuclear-powered hydrogen.
European Union member states and members of the European Parliament on Thursday reached an agreement to double the production of renewables across the bloc by the end of the decade.
Under the provisional deal reached shortly around 07:00 CET following overnight negotiations, the share of renewable energy in the EU's overall energy consumption will need to be 42.5% by 2030 with an additional "aspirational" 2.5% top-up in a bid to reach 45%.
In 2021, renewable energy represented 21.8 % of energy consumed in the EU, according to Eurostat.
The new binding target set in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is below the 45% asked by MEPs but above member states' preferred 40% and ups the current target in vigour by just over 10 percentage points.
The new rules, which are part of the Fit for 55 package presented in summer 2021 to speed up the energy transition and slash EU emissions by 55% by 2030, now have to be formally approved by member states and by the entire European Parliament.
Nuclear is 'neither green nor fossil'
French MEP Pascal Canfin (Renew), who chairs Parliament's Environment Committee, said negotiators "created rules that are unprecedented in the world to give us the means to win the battle for the climate."
He also said that the deal better regulates the use of biomass, "even if Parliament wanted to go further", and that it also recognises "the specific role of nuclear power, which is neither green nor fossil."
The latter is seen as a major victory for France, which had aggressively lobbied in recent weeks for nuclear-powered hydrogen to be considered low-carbon, a move fiercely opposed by countries including Germany, Austria and Luxembourg.
The text thus sets new renewable hydrogen targets for transport and industry. For the latter, the target is set at 42% for 2030 and 60% by 2035 but can be lowered to 20% if "the share of hydrogen from fossil fuels consumed in the member states is not more than 23% in 2030 and 20% in 2035."
However, to benefit from the lower target, they also need to have met their national contribution to the binding overall EU target of 42.5%.
France might therefore struggle to secure the concession as it is behind its peers in renewables deployment. It is the onlyEU country that failed to meet its 2020 national target for renewable energy, falling short by 3.9 percentage points with just 19.1% of the energy it consumed coming from renewables.
German MEP Michael Bloss (Greens) was adamant these two conditions meant that "the French did not win today."
"They wanted to have renewable energies and nuclear energy at the same level. They did not win today but I believe they will fight in every other dossiers and this will be an ongoing conflict," he told Euronews.
'Unfortunate' outcome for biomass
On bioenergy — the use of organic material such as trees, plants, and agricultural and urban waste to generate electricity — the deal "strengthens the sustainability criteria" to reduce the risk of unstainable bioenergy production, the Council press statement said.
German MEP Markus Pieper (EPP), the parliament's rapporteur on RED, said biomass "remains 100% renewable". He described the entire deal as "a good day for Europe's energy transition."
But Dutch NGO Fern called the outcome over biomass "unfortunate" with Martin Pigeon, its Forests & Climate Campaigner arguing that "because it will keep rewarding energy companies burning millions of trees, our main land carbon sink, the RED will continue to worsen the climate and biodiversity crisis, harm people’s health, and actively undermine the EU’s climate ambitions in addition to destroying value at taxpayer’s expense."
To achieve the targets set in, RED plans for accelerating permitting procedures for renewable energy projects, seen as necessary to wean the bloc's dependence on foreign-imported fossil fuels, become energy independent and reach carbon-neutrality by the mid-century plan.
Member states will designate "renewables acceleration areas" to allow for a simplified and fast-tracked permit-granting process for renewables energy projects. These will also be considered as of "overriding public interest", further alleviating the regulatory burden on them and limiting the grounds of legal objections.
'Not in line with scientific evidence'
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the political agreement, writing on Twitter that it "will help us progress towards climate neutrality, strengthen our energy security and boost our competitiveness — all at once."
Nils Torvalds (Renew), the lead MEP for the Environment Committee, meanwhile underlined that the negotiations lasted about a year and a half and that "the war in Ukraine has caused negotiating parties to change their position many times over."
CAN Europe, the continent's leading NGO coalition fighting climate change, however branded the targets as "not in line with what scientific evidence is showing us."
"If we are serious about reaching climate neutrality, member states will now need to work together and surpass a 50% EU renewable energy target by 2030," CAN Europe Director Chiara Martinelli said in a statement.
"With the ‘Fit for 55’ package almost concluded, it's of the utmost importance for higher ambition on the remaining legislative files on buildings and gas. Our future depends on them," she added.
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