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  • EurActiv

EU energy consumption is rising despite targets to reduce demand across Europe.

It’s 1992. The Republicans have been in the White House for 12 years. President George H. W. Bush Sr. has overseen victory in the Cold War and a wave of optimism for the future is sweeping across the world. What could possibly unseat a sitting president in these circumstances?

The economy, stupid.” It was during the 1992 presidential campaign that this now ubiquitous phrase was coined by James Carville, lead strategist for the Democratic Party contender, Bill Clinton. The first Bush presidency had been plagued by an economic recession and a spike in oil prices caused in part by the Gulf War. George Bush Sr. lost his second bid and became the only one-term US president since the 1970s.

Jump forward to 2019 and the latest data show that EU energy consumption is rising despite targets to reduce demand across Europe. This should not be a surprise: again, it’s the economy. Between 2014 and 2017, EU gross domestic product grew at its fastest rate since the mid-2000s and, however much we would like to kid ourselves, economic activity is not yet meaningfully decoupled from energy consumption.

Faster economic growth has seen rises in industrial production across all sectors, more transportation of goods, and an increase in passenger travel.

What does that mean for the EU’s 2020 energy efficiency targets? To meet them, final and primary energy consumption must fall by 0.5% and 1.0% per year, respectively, between 2016 (our latest data point) and 2020. However, over the two years prior to 2016, final energy consumption grew by more than 4% and primary energy consumption was up by more than 2%. Early indications suggest another increase in 2017.

EU primary and final energy consumption and linear trend from 2005 to 2020 targets. [Eurostat]

With only a year to go until 2020, the best hopes to meet the energy efficiency targets lie outside of policymakers’ control. Just as economic growth has driven up energy consumption since 2014, the dark clouds of Brexit and the China-US trade dispute may too cause a downturn in consumption next year. Indeed, both the German and French economies have seen slower growth during the second half of 2018.

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