I represented the UK at the Informal Energy Council that took place in Paris on 4 and 5 July. This was held back to back with an informal Environment Council, reflecting the priority the French are giving to the climate change and energy package during their presidency. Both meetings were chaired by Jean-Louis Borloo, French Minister for the Environment and Energy. The European Parliament rapporteurs for the various elements of the package were also present.
The main focus of discussion was the renewables directive, including specific debates on biofuels and the flexibilities required for the EU to achieve the 20 per cent renewable energy target in a cost-effective way. National experiences were also exchanged on energy efficiency, and Ministers received a presentation on energy security by Claude Mandil, former head of the IEA, commissioned by the French to produce a report to inform the forthcoming EU strategic energy review.
During the debate on renewables, there was a large degree of consensus on the importance of meeting the targets cost effectively. There was also widespread recognition that this can only be achieved with some level of exchange between member states allowing countries with potentially expensive domestic renewables resource to buy them more cheaply elsewhere in the EU. There was general agreement among Ministers that a UK/Germany/Poland proposal for a system of exchange between member states represented a promising way forward.
A short debate on biofuels followed. I used the opportunity to highlight the key findings of the Gallagher review. There was a discussion on the perceived link between the increased use of biofuels and food prices. It was emphasised that the 10 per cent objective in the draft directive is for the use of renewable energy in transport, and not a 10 per cent share of biofuel in transport fuel by 2020; so electric vehicles could also play a part in achieving this target. Several member states agreed that the proposed sustainability regime proposed for biofuels should be more demanding in order to ensure genuine sustainability of biofuels and highlighted the importance of the availability of second generation biofuels in this regard.
Earlier we had a debate on energy efficiency with representatives of NGOs, business and MEPs. There were several presentations on what individual MSs were doing domestically (I spoke about the UK’s carbon reduction commitment scheme) and a general agreement that more effort had to be put into energy efficiency both at national and EU level.