National energy and climate plans not up to the green recovery task

The updated national energy and climate plans  (NECPs) of Hungary, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain include some improvements from the draft versions. But they still fall short of the ambition needed to reach the EU’s climate goals and to drive a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Progress Check: Hungary, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain's energy and climate plans under review

Following the EU Commission recommendations on the member states’ draft NECPs and the submission of their updates, LIFE PlanUp assessed whether the final plans submitted by Hungary, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain are stronger than the draft versions and generally more ambitious than already existing national legislation.

Improvements - but also steps back

The updated plans are somewhat better than the draft versions. For example, Poland and Romania have slightly raised their energy efficiency and renewable energy targets. However, beyond that, the Commission's request to address this important gap is largely ignored. 

Spain plans a significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels, from 74% to 59% by 2030. On the other hand, Italy plans to continue to rely heavily on fossil gas and unsustainable biofuels, while the Polish government expects coal to still deliver between 56 and 60% of the country’s electricity by 2030.

While all of the final NECPs include some new measures, countries mostly seem to capitalise on already existing policies. These include incentive schemes for energy efficiency upgrades and electric vehicles. Moreover, while the plans generally acknowledge transport and buildings as key sectors to decarbonise, they include weak measures that fall short of proper resources to effectively achieve the objectives.

On behalf of PlanUp, Agnese Ruggiero commented:

“The plans have potential, but the improvements so far are incremental and some changes are clear steps backwards. Governments shouldn’t treat this as a tick-the-box exercise but as an opportunity to kick-start a green recovery and climate-friendly transition. We urge them to review these plans at the earliest opportunity.”  

Sectoral measures

The agricultural sector continues being the big elephant in the room and therefore a big gap in the plans. Poland, for example, sees limited potential to reduce emissions from agriculture, while fearing that strict measures would lead to carbon leakage.

Transport is Europe’s worst climate problem. Encouragingly, Romania aims to revive its rail transport, after decades of decay. The government’s set objectives include for example improving the energy efficiency of rail transport through expanding the electric rail network. While governments generally plan to promote electric vehicles, there is also a worrying trend across the NECPs to rely heavily on biofuels to decarbonise transport. The sustainability of biofuels is controversial at best, and especially first-generation biofuels cannot be considered sustainable energy sources.

Cristina Mestre, from Transport & Environment, said: 

“We welcome some of the improvements and clarifications in the plans, but countries should make more efforts to move away from unsustainable biofuels, and promote and facilitate the market for renewable electricity as fuel. Countries should also have clear plans to decarbonise the aviation and shipping sector. We are concerned about the focus some countries have on the promotion of gas as a transition fuel, as it is yet another fossil fuel”. 

Buildings have huge emission reduction potential and countries put a lot of emphasis on this sector in their NECPs. For example, measures such as the “Casa Verde” programme in Romania, under which people are encouraged to use home heating systems based on renewable energy, could have huge potential to reduce carbon pollution from buildings, if properly implemented. In general, though, the plans tend to lack concrete commitments and measures when it comes to cutting CO2 pollution from buildings.

Barbara Mariani from European Environmental Bureau said: 

“The decarbonisation of buildings remains a challenge for all the Member States we have evaluated. What strikes is that despite an effective regulatory and financial framework to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy in place for the last eight years, measures at the national level still lack stringency, vision and long-term planning. Above all, the national plans miss a clear commitment to making the most of the economic, environmental and social benefits offered”. 

NECPs as a tool to kick-start a green recovery

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic could be felt for many years to come. The pandemic has also slowed down policymaking and some of the NECP related processes that had started in the member states were put on hold. For example, in Spain, public consultation on the final NECP started but was interrupted. 

At the same time, the NECPs can help chart Europe’s way out of the pandemic and into carbon-free societies. This is not the time to weaken them. It’s time to make them stronger so that they support a green recovery and are in line with the EU Green Deal. Equally important will be to structure a regular dialogue and better involve civil society and all other relevant stakeholders in the development and implementation of climate plans. 

The European Commission is expected to provide its assessment of the final energy and climate plans in October. 

Further information:

  • Progress Check: IT, ES, HU, PL and RO's energy and climate plans under review