Businesses kick off new EU energy savings debate -letter

Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:05pm EST

* Energy saving could buy planet five years' grace - IEA

* Commission poised to open debate on post-2020 goals

BRUSSELS Nov 20 (Reuters) - A group of company executives demanded a new binding European Union energy efficiency target on Tuesday, stoking a debate on green policy goals for 2030 with the first public call from business leaders.

The European Commission is expected to publish policy documents on the issue over the coming months.

In a letter, dated Tuesday, to Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, the executives argued a mandatory energy savings target for 2030 "can serve the EU in the short term and solidify its long-term position as a competitive player in the world arena".

The signatories included senior management from Philips Lighting, Schneider Electric and building insulation producer Kingspan, as well as the president of the European Alliance to Save Energy, which brings together politicians and energy firms from across Europe.

Other sections of business and some EU member states have objected to a binding savings goal because it requires upfront investment in renovation and more efficient energy systems.

Months of debate earlier this year to try to improve the bloc's record resulted in a watered down deal that stopped short of enforcing a non-binding goal to improve energy saving by 20 percent by 2020.

Two other 2020 targets, to get 20 percent of the energy mix from renewables and to cut emissions by 20 percent, are binding.

Theoretically, the European Union will meet the 2020 binding goals, but it is struggling to advance the debate on green energy policy for the next decade.

Philip Lowe, director general for energy in the European Commission, said on Tuesday the executive body would be issuing policy documents early next year to take the discussion forward.

Progress on efficiency so far had been "too timid".

"We fell down in communicating the advantages," he said, referring to energy savings, arguing that renovating a building already led to a cost and increasing that to improve energy performance was effectively an investment.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its latest World Energy Outlook, focused on efficiency as a shelter against expensive fossil fuel imports and a way to slow global warming.

IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol told a Brussels audience on Tuesday that energy savings could buy five years to help stave off catastrophic global warming.

"We are perfectly on track for a global temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which is devastating news," he said.

"What we find is that if we can push this energy efficiency button, closing the door on the 2 degrees can be pushed back by five precious years."

He reiterated previous comment that the door to limit global warming to 2 degrees - the level scientists say would prevent the worst climate change - was otherwise likely to shut in 2017.

Birol refused to be drawn into the EU debate, saying it was up to member states to decide how to follow up the 2020 targets.