University of Washington

EU diplomat: 4 steps to a low-carbon economy


April 30, 2013

By Melissa Croce

BurgsmuellerAs part of a weeklong series of events at the UW celebrating Earth Day, the Jackson School and the European Union Center of Excellence hosted European Union (EU) diplomat, Dr. Christian Burgsmueller. Burgsmueller’s primary role within the EU is as a counselor at the EU delegation in Washington, D.C., as the head of the energy, transport and environment section.

In his lecture, Burgsmueller explained a simplified step-by-step process to reaching a low-carbon economy:

  1. “The first step is to try to work on your demand, work on energy efficiency. All the energy you don’t need, you don’t have to produce, you don’t have to import. So consume less energy.
  2. “The second step is that if you have to consume energy, go for green energy. Go for renewables: wind, solar, biothermal…
  3. “Third step, if you can’t fulfill your energy objectives with renewables and there’s no country in the world that gets 100 percent of its energy from renewables… go for home-grown energy because the energy you have is certainly better for your balance of payments than the energy you have to import.
  4. “In the fourth and last step, if you have to import energy from outside the EU in the sense, then try to diversify as much as you can, so as not to give to any sort of provider of energy too much power over you, and try to favor the stable states over the unstable states.”

Burgsmueller went on to describe the EU Energy and Climate Package, which is also known as the 20 20 20 by 2020 goals. “It’s basically set,” said Burgsmueller, “that by the year 2020, with the year 1990 as its baseline, the EU is going to achieve a 20 percent share of renewables in the energy mix, a 20 percent CO2 reduction, and an increase of energy efficiency in the economy by 20 percent.”

Europe looks on track to, at the very least, reduce CO2 by 20 percent, but with 2020 only seven years away, there is talk about Europe’s goals for the future: “There is discussion of what goals we should set for ourselves in 2030, 2040, 2050, to reduce carbon emissions by 30, 40, 50 percent,” Burgsmueller said. “The discussion is quite active and controversial… because our member states have different opinions on how ambitious the goals will be.”
In order to pass, however, the goals will have to go through the EU legislative process, which Burgsmueller describes as similar to the U.S. Congress. Regardless, the European Commission has been making plans for 2050, proposing to go essentially carbonless in Europe by reducing CO2 emissions by 80 percent.

“It’s a very ambitious proposal,” said Burgsmueller, “and we shall see in the next months and probably years how the European [Legislative System is] going to take that up and legislate that.”

Luckily, said Burgsmueller, unlike in America, “climate change in Europe is mainstream policy. There is no discussion within the European Union whether climate change exists,” he explained, “it’s settled science in Europe.”

Burgsmueller’s visit is in part due to his diplomatic duties, reaching out to schools across the nation and educating them on European politics. Select universities are chosen to receive some funding from the EU to maintain EU Centers of Excellence. UW, among several other public and private universities, such as Georgetown University, University of California, Berkeley, and University of North Carolina, have EU Centers of Excellence that diplomats such as Burgsmueller visit.