13/04/2015 07:47 BST | Updated 10/06/2015 06:59 BST

Momentum Is Gathering Behind the Energy Union - We Must Keep Up the Pace


Are we reaching a breakthrough on tackling climate change? So asked Guardian journalist Andrew Simms this week, who noted that although oil prices continue to fall, latest figures show a huge push towards increasing our renewable energy capabilities across the globe. World investment, mainly in solar and wind, went up by 17% to £180 billion last year alone.

This is excellent news for climate change campaigners; with only eight months to go until the United Nations climate change conference (COP 21) in Paris, it looks like the world is finally waking up to the need for decisive action to prevent the irrevocable destruction of our planet.

China has announced its aims to increase its wind power capacity to more than double that of Europe within five years and Costa Rica recently celebrated reaching 100% renewable energy status in 2015. Several European regions and cities can boast of the same achievement as their Central American counterpart, with many more well on their way.

Europe is leading the way on tackling climate change; as the third greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, the EU had pledged to cut pollution by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Number two on the list, the United States, will make reductions of 26-28% based on 2005 levels over the next decade.

However the protection of people and planet is not the only factor behind the EU's bold aims: news that energy imports into the EU now total more than £750 million a day, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, have exposed the vulnerability of the Europe's energy supply and provided an important wake-up call to us all. Over-reliance on imports, particularly from Russia, is no longer an option.

It is in this context that the European Commission has launched its plans to build an Energy Union: a truly common energy policy that unites Member States with the central goal of ensuring secure, sustainable and affordable energy for all Europeans.

What do we need to do in order to achieve this? For a start, we can make the energy we do use go a lot further, by reducing the amount we consume in heating our homes. Increasing EU renovation rates from 1.2% to 3% by 2020 would ensure an 80% reduction in energy demand from building stock - a one-third saving on total EU energy use - by 2050.

Labour MEPs have been instrumental in driving this to the top of the EU energy agenda, because we know that improving energy efficiency creates jobs and reduces fuel poverty, too. Renovations could create 2 million local jobs by 2020, increase the value of homes and cut gas bills across Europe by up to £180 billion annually by 2030. That current domestic electricity prices in Europe are up to three times higher than in the United States, and with a quarter of EU citizens on low-incomes in food poverty in 2012, this is more than good news for Europe.

Stockton-on-Tees in my North East constituency is proof of the wide-reaching benefits of efficiency measures. A scheme to fit of external cladding and new boilers, central heating systems and internal insulation to 5,000 homes in some of the poorest areas has reduced domestic carbon emissions by around 300,000 tonnes and has created almost 500 local jobs.

Connectivity is the second key component to realising the aims of the Commission's Energy Union. The states surrounding the North Sea generate enough electricity to supply the energy needs of every home in the European Union. Over a quarter of this energy comes from renewable sources, yet a lack of infrastructure means that states have few means by which to pass it between them. And since renewable energy cannot be stored, if it is not used straight away it is lost - at an estimated total of 126 million kWh ² per year.

That's why last week's announcement of plans to install the world's longest subsea electricity cable by 2021 is so welcome. The cable will connect the UK to Norway for the first time and will mean that nearly three quarters of a million British homes will benefit from Norway's highly developed hydropower capabilities. Importantly, installing the interconnector, maintaining it and building the infrastructure to support it will create local, skilled jobs. British consumers will see their energy bills go down, too.

In order to see that the Energy Union is a success, we need a truly collective approach to reducing CO2 emissions and ensuring security of energy supply to Member States. The technology is there and projects such as the North Sea interconnector show that momentum is gathering. It is our responsibility as Members of the European Parliament to ensure that we keep up the pace.

Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for North East of England