Decarbonising national economies will require significant structural transformations of national energy systems and a number of emissions intensive sectors. Policy makers will therefore need to identify a comprehensive and coherent set of goals for each key aspect of the transition and monitor progress towards achieving these goals using indicators. But which specific goals and indicators should they focus on? And how can we be sure that the approach is consistent with achieving deep transformation change? This paper attempts to answer this question. This question is particularly relevant for current policy debate in Europe, where EU Member States have agreed to develop a set of “key indicators” to track progress towards decarbonisation as part of the new Energy Union governance mechanism.
INDICATORS ARE A SIMPLE BUT IMPORTANT TOOL FOR GOVERNING EU CLIMATE AND ENERGY POLICY
The EU is currently in the process of developing a ‘new governance mechanism’ to ensure the effective implementation of the EU’s Energy Union project and the achievement of the EU’s targets under the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework. The new governance mechanism will have far-reaching consequences for the way that the EU and its Member States plan, monitor and coordinate on energy and climate policy post-2020. Key indicators will have a crucial role to play in this mechanism.
INDICATORS MUST BE INTEGRATED INTO NATIONAL CLIMATE AND ENERGY PLANS
The purpose of indicators for climate and energy policy is to monitor progress towards EU climate and energy goals. However, since the bulk of policy action towards these goals generally takes place at the Member State level, these goals must also be adopted at Member State level for the indicators to track the success of policy implementation. For this, the goals that indicators track need to be included in national climate and energy plans. The EU has proposed to make this the case for some EU goals contained in the Energy Union project, but not for other ones. A closer integration of European indictors and national plans and targets set by Member States is needed.
INDICATORS MUST ALSO FOCUS ON LONG-TERM GOALS, NOT JUST 2030 TARGETS
A singular use of indicators only to set and track trajectories to 2030 targets can create blind spots about other sub-objectives that need to be achieved to enable 2050 goals to be reached. For instance, the issue of electrification of energy demand for heating and transport is largely ignored in current policy debates, despite the fact that 2050 decarbonisation scenarios for various EU Member States show it to be a crucial driver of achieving <2°C-consistent decarbonisation. Key indicators should therefore be selected based on a systematic breakdown of the energy system and other emissions sources into the key drivers of long-term transformation.
CARE WILL NEED TO BE GIVEN TO HOW INDICATORS ARE INTERPRETED AND USED FOR MAKING POLICY
Reality is complex. There will be extraneous factors that will influence the results given by key indicators. Some indicators may also have more relevance for some Member States’ 2030 strategies than for others. These things can potentially lead to erroneous conclusions being drawn from the indicators if not taken into account. The process of interpreting indicators for the EU governance process could perhaps be accompanied by a shadow group of country-level and sector experts. Auxiliary indicators that help interpretation must also be chosen carefully. In addition, a focus on recent (say 2-3 year) trends rather than one-year data should be privileged. Quality control of reported data is also important.v