The credibility of the European Union’s efforts to decarbonise the power sector

The ability of EU member states to translate their commitments to decarbonise the power sector into concrete actions, in order to meet European and international objectives, has so far not been fully investigated. This report aims to fill this gap by assessing the credibility of member states’ efforts in this area – with credibility of policy commitments defined as ‘the likelihood that policymakers will keep their promises to implement the pledges or policies they announce’. The analysis provides an initial comparative insight into seven key determinants of credibility of efforts to decarbonise the power sector and how these vary between countries.

The report is one of the final outputs of the Statkraft policy research programme, ‘“Fit-for-Purpose’ Energy and Climate Change Mitigation Policies for the European Union’, completed in December 2017. A final project report summarises all of the main findings and recommendations.

Headline issues

Further policies are needed for the EU to substantially reduce carbon emissions. National projections show that by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions will be only 26 per cent below 1990 levels, and therefore additional policies will be needed in order to achieve the objective of a 40 per cent cut. Decarbonising the power sector will be central to EU and national strategies.

EU member states need a ‘credible’ approach for decarbonising their power sectors. This report argues that credible decarbonisation commitments require countries to have:

  • A suitable set of policies and legislation; a robust track record of policy consistency (by refraining from sudden policy reversal) and of meeting targets; sound and transparent decision-making processes (including for enforcing and monitoring policy); capable policymaking bodies; and a supportive socioeconomic environment, in terms of public opinion and the private sector.

Key findings

  • The EU as a whole performs best in terms of having public bodies dedicated to climate change action, supported by consultative mechanisms, and in terms of having practically no history of climate policy reversal, while it performs less well in terms of having a private sector supportive of climate change action, a climate-aware public, and on its past performance.
  • At member state level, Denmark, Germany and the UK are the top performers. Poland and the Czech Republic appear to have the greatest scope for improvement. Italy, France and Spain fall in the middle.
  • Policy and legislation needs to be strengthened in some countries to improve credibility. Poland is one example, needing to strengthen its long-term vision for decarbonising the power sector and its support to low-carbon investment.
  • Public institutions could also be improved in some countries, such as Poland and Germany.
  • Frequent policy reversals are a challenge to the credibility of decarbonising efforts in several EU countries, notably in the Czech Republic and Spain and, to a lesser extent, Italy, France, Germany and the UK.
  • Climate change awareness among the public in Poland and the Czech Republic is among the lowest in the EU.
  • The carbon-intensive sectors, such as mining, plastic, paper and machinery manufacturing, are important sources of jobs in countries including the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Poland, and this could embolden the lobby power of these groups.
  • Acting on some of these determinants will have an immediate effect on the credibility of decarbonising the power sector, while others will require longer and more consistent efforts in order to have an impact.

The other Statkraft policy and research outputs that accompany this report are: