Blog post - Sense and Sensibility

22 September 2011

"We shouldn't invest in energy efficiency because it's bad for economic growth", claims Markus Pieper, MEP. All right, he was speaking in German and maybe the EU Parliament's interpreters were having a tough day. But they can't have got it completely wrong. He did say saving energy is a bad thing.

What an unhelpful remark. Mr Pieper's opinions are important, because he is the European People Party's lead MEP on the Energy Efficiency Directive. And the EPP of course are the top boys in the EU Parliament at the moment, with a third of the seats. So presumably lots of people are now equally misinformed.

Still – fair's fair – he was simply repeating a common misunderstanding. Most of us instinctively associate energy efficiency with "rationing" (that dreaded word) and believe it is diametrically opposed to growth.

Not true. Saving energy will speed up economic recovery, not hinder it. Defending EU Commission analyses is not something any NGO watchdog does gladly, but there is a time and a place for everything. The Commission has built up a solid case that saving energy is good for economic growth, jobs, the environment and lots of other important things. They call it "less is more" and reckon, for instance, that the 20% by 2020 energy savings target will save Europe €200 billion every year.

Let's put that number into perspective. Le Monde recently added up the French government's emergency economy measures for 2012. They came to annual savings of €11 billion. Now set this against France's fair share of the €200 billion: more than two times more at €25 billion per year.

It's common sense really, and Mr Pieper should have the savvy to see it. Improving Europe's energy efficiency means cutting oil and gas import bills (we import over half of our energy). It means spending less to run a business and heat a house. Remember Michael Douglas's famous line in Wall Street? He said "Greed is good, ladies and gentlemen". Twisted morals, maybe, but it fits. Spending less on energy means more money for other, more exciting or more useful things. Therefore we need to do everything we can to chase down energy efficiency opportunities. It's as simple as that.

Time to think again, Mr Pieper. Surely a competitive Europe is something to strive for regardless of your political colours?

By Brook Riley, Friends of the Earth Europe and Erica Hope, Climate Action Network Europe