The 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru, is the last UN climate summit before the meeting in Paris 2015, when governments hope to agree to a global legal framework setting binding targets to reduce CO2 emmissions. Leaders will be desperate to avoid another disappointment along the lines of the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, when an ambitious global agreement failed to materialise despite high expectations.

Ahead of the Lima climate summit, the European Union agreed to the 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy, setting binding EU targets for 2030 of at least 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, at least 27% of energy used by the EU being generated by renewables, and an energy efficiency increase of at least 27%.

Proponents argue that setting tough climate targets will spur a sustainable, green growth boom in Europe, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and boosting innovation. If you want a break-down of some of the numbers involved, check out our infographic below (click on the image for a larger version):


However, we had a comment sent in by Dan arguing that the focus on renewables was misplaced. He believes that “green energy is not as green as advertised” and that it would be much more effective to focus on lowering fuel consumption, recycling, insulating buildings and saving energy.

Renewable energy sources accounted for an 11.0 % share of the EU-28’s gross inland energy consumption in 2012. Less than 15% of that was produced by wind and solar energy (which is what most people think of when you say “renewables”). Instead, the majority (over 60%) of renewable energy in gross inland consumption was generated by “biomass and renewable waste” – i.e. organic matter such as wood, crop waste, or garbage.

Green pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have accused biomass of being “dirtier than coal” because not only does burning wood and other organic matter emit CO2, but it can also involve the destruction of mature forest land which naturally captures carbon from the atmosphere.

To get a response to Dan’s comment, we spoke to Karsten Neuhoff, Head of Climate Policy Department at the German Institute for Economics Research (DIW Berlin). How would he respond to the argument that energy efficiency was a much more effective way of meeting Europe’s climate targets?

To get another reaction, we also spoke to Paul Watkinson, Head of the Climate Negotiation Team at the French Ministry of Ecology. What would he say to Dan?

Is “green energy” really as green as advertised? Or is the reliance on biomass distorting the true cost of renewables? Should Europe instead focus on increasing energy efficiency to meet its climate targets? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Nuon

41 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    James McManama

    Renewable energy CAN be sustainable, if strict legal controls are placed on things like biomass production. Also, solar and wind energy may still only represent a small fraction of energy consumption, but it’s growing fast!

  2. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    well… considering that all live comes from the energy of the sun, I think it is obvious solar energy is sustainable… what I dont know is what you consider waste of money!

    • avatar

      thanks this really helped with my geography CAT

  3. avatar
    Xouav Elías Bepgapa Míguez

    Certain energies such as wind (specially in land), biomass for heating, geothermal and little by little solar are competitive, cheaper than fossil fuels or nuclear and perfectly sustainable. If fossil fuels prizes grow (something that is going to happen for sure), we stop subsidizing them and we keep on investing on research and innovation, more and more types of renewable energies will be competitive and cheap such as advanced biofuels, heat pumps, etc.

    • avatar

      the parts to make solar products relies on so called fossil fuels….

  4. avatar
    Nuno Sardinha

    Portugal has no oil or natural gas resources, so was very important to made changes in its energy policy to guarantee energy independence with the use of renewable energy resources. This policy was supported by financial and fiscal incentives. Because of the financial crisis in Portugal, the financial assistance agreed with the Troika has imposed a number of restrictive measures on the energy sector, with special emphasis on renewables, which are said to be the ?most expensive? in terms of the subsidies granted. Now the policy is based on freedom of initiative of the promoters, without depending on subsidies or guaranteed remuneration.
    But the results have been impressive. In 2013, renewable energy supplied almost 60 percent of total consumption in Portugal. I would like to highlight this remarkable progress made by Portugal in shifting from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy? but was not cheap!

    • avatar

      The results altogether are great and could be greater if buying electric cars was in fact compensatory for the common citizen. Paying over 10000 euros for a car just because is electric/hybrid and it’s tax deductible is not a good deal for a country where 15% of the population is unemployed and 20 to 30% earns per year around 8000€.

  5. avatar
    Charalambos Cherkezos

    If installed based on scientific terms it can perform miracles…i.e in mediterranean countries where there is a lot of sunshine installation of PVs should be pursued and not wind generators which’s is less easy to forecast and in northern europe countries wind or sea water energy could be promoted in contrast with solar energy due to solar absence…….

  6. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    Renewable energy is very cheap , that is investment for our future . If EU countries could together make a really big investment in wind-solar on about 1 000 billions that could make price/Watt very low and EU could get free green energy for the future .

    • avatar
      Craciunescu Costel

      no, renewable energy is not cheap even if the “raw materials” are free to use, and if someone invest some money in your big wind-solar project, after that they will want to get that money back but what if in time the wind slows or change direction or what if the sun won’t shine on those PV’s as is expected and that investment won’t produce enough electricity as is required?

    • avatar

      Oh dear another failed economist.

  7. avatar

    Have these people never heard of that fancy technology called video conferencing?

  8. avatar
    George Danieldsg

    Solar and wind power are enough to cover all needs present and future.With proper recearch and investments will be cheap and easy to use.

    • avatar
      Craciunescu Costel

      yeah i hope that they will be so cheap and we will see wind turbines and PV’s fields everywhere. the fact that we will see birds only in pictures or cages it’s a minor detail, who gives a … on birds we have “green energy”

  9. avatar

    In my opinion renewable energy is sustainable. There should be more investment to do a good research and in the end this will pay off. In the northern European countries, especially in the Netherlands there are a lot of windmills. These windmills in the Netherlands produce enough energy to provide electricity for 4,5 households in the Netherlands.

  10. avatar

    Renewable energy is substainable because governments have realised the CO2 level needs to be reduced. It may cost a lot but I believe it is not about how the situation is now but how it can be better. If the houses are built to reduce the energy billing as much as possible, choose wich products you buy. Load of gallons of water is needed to produce food.

    But for example The Netherlands gains a lot of money out of gas drillings, you dont just give up these things that easily.

  11. avatar
    catherine benning

    This article in the Independent tells as that cheap energy is on the way. So, lets see how we can keep it safe by nationalising it out of the hands of the corporations who will end up robbing us blind just as they do now.
    25/04/2017 Arlan Brucal, Research Officer at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, has responded to this comment.
    25/04/2017 Dr. Jonathan Cobb, Senior Communication Manager at the World Nuclear Association, has responded to this comment.

  12. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    EU will need to go further and create value for the future energy security can be ensured by the development of alternative sources such as solar and wind power is a valuable contribuition to the enviromental universe

    • avatar
      Craciunescu Costel

      and the birds will be safe until they’re extinct, if the birds will not adapt to human intervention on environment then the birds will no longer be with us

  13. avatar
    Yannick Cornet

    If you ask traditional economists with a narrow understanding of ‘welfare’ with limited time span into the future and high discounting rates, like Lomborg, the answer would certainly be ‘its a waste of money’. Ecological economists taking a stronger, more nuanced, complex and long term perspective on sustainability would certainly conclude the opposite. I agree with the latter.

  14. avatar
    Thomas Nowa

    I wonder, how a cheap statement like “green energy is not as green as advertised” can really trigger such a discussion.
    What is the alternative? Focussing on energy efficiency is well and good and should be done much more, but even there the effort is counterbalanced by incredibly cheap (often still subsidized) fossil fuel.

    So three statements to the debate:
    1. Fossil fuel will never be green, even if advertised
    2. renewable energy is complementary to investments in energy efficient and smart buildings
    3. The heating and cooling sector must be moved to the center of attention. Ambient energy – air, water and ground – can provide a huge compensation to a renewable heat supply.

    If you want to know more – check

    • avatar

      Are you going to make all those cheap solar panels and wind turbines, with out so-called fossil fuels. Think plastics and components ect. Efficient use is the key. I wonder if you included all the production costs to produce “cheap” electricity would it really be economical. The people of earth are hooked on electricity.

  15. avatar

    Spain produces solar thermal energy and exports 80% of it to Germany.That could be a possibility to balance the economic gap between northern and southern countries

  16. avatar
    Mhitsos Xanthos

    Why ain’t you talking about the greenhouse emission by farm animals which is bigger than all traffic put together?

  17. avatar

    Renewable energy and the investments in this project is the only way to protect our social helthcare and reduce the negative effects of euro area because renewable energy will offer to Europe energy self-efficiency and because of that monetary policy of euro will become more flexible

  18. avatar
    Debating Club Lwak

    Like in Kenya, the wind potentially areas are not by any way utilized much .The project is rather piloting- we are optimistic that with proper investment in material input and technical know-how, then some of the marginalized areas will turn lucrative because power has not reached in such places after all. Wind energy is one of the most reliable renewable sources.Day or night.

  19. avatar
    Paul @ Eco Stores

    It’s not the fun or easy way, but we should be trying to design energies that can carry us well into the future. Things like biomass are still too reliant on the earth’s production for my taste.

  20. avatar
    Andrea Dalla Pria

    Renawble energy is one way of the future, but not the only. The efficiency of this type of energy is must be combine with a different type of lifetime, and a different view of any type of work. The key word is interdisciplinary, for example for a work of restoration in the environmental we need not only an engineer but also a geologist, a naturalist, that’s the way

  21. avatar

    I think renewable is usefull . climate hlep us in chase of geotheremal energy we obtained energy form 10 km depth, 10km depth mens 1300 c then what is of tarping energy

  22. avatar
    Philippa Auton

    Accessing cheap reliable enegy is crucial to living in the Industrial and Technological Age that has lifted billions of people out of poverty, improved health and enabled billions of people to thrive. It’s no secret that the war against fossil fuels had been targeted against wealthy Western nations and used fear in an attempt to reduce accessing energy to meet demand. There is no shortage of Fossil fuels, technology has continued to both develop new ways of making fuel go further and discovering new resources, ie oil sands and extracting oil from rock. The idea to encourage people to use less is barbaric when in reality more energy needs to be produced to enable 2 billion people who live without electricity.
    17/05/2017 Dr. Hugo-Maria Schally, Head of Unit of DG Environment (Eco-Innovation & Circular Economy) at the European Commission, has responded to this comment.
    17/05/2017 Verena Brennan, Energy Awareness Manager at Codema, an agency set up by Dublin City Council in 1997 to help the Irish capital meet its energy efficiency targets, has responded to this comment.

  23. avatar
    Ajay Verma

    Wow nice article.I think going for a renewable energy and using it would be better idea as it would be so helpful towards sustainable and better future.I am glad that I came across such article.Thanks for sharing about renewable energy

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