Award Season

A look at my work in energy over the last 18 months


Did you ever have one of those, ‘just run that by me again,’ moments? I had one last Wednesday. Apparently, according to a poll conducted by one of Brussels leading news websites I am the 15th most influential individual in European energy policy. Ahead of me on the list Angela Merkel, Polish PM Beata Szydło, EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete and several other energy ministers.

As a geologist, energy was a natural focus for my work in the European Parliament, particularly with Scotland so graced with energy reserves and resources. Even in these chastened times our oil and gas industry exports £30 billion worth of hydrocarbons to the world. We are blessed (or cursed) by strong winds and for good or ill have one of the largest arrays of windmills in the world. We are at the forefront of attempts to harness the energy potential of our waves and tides. Our universities are at the cutting edge of energy policy and innovation. Getting involved in energy policy was a no brainer.

One of my first acts on being elected was to fight for seats on the Parliament’s Energy and Environment Committees.  Later I became my party’s EU Spokesman on Energy and Climate Change.

Climate change

Early in my term, I was appointed a Parliamentary delegate to the UN Climate Change talks in Lima.  Up close I saw the good and the bad of global negotiations. I was also a delegate to December’s UN gathering in Paris, where a global deal finally did emerge, again good in parts, bad in others.  If you want to find out which was which, you can hunt down my daily blogs from both Lima and Paris here.

EU Emissions Trading Scheme

Between the two gatherings I was appointed Rapporteur (lead negotiator) on reform of the EU’s flagship climate change policy, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). If a CO2-emitting installation (and the scheme covers 11,000 power stations and factories across the EU), wants to carry on emitting then it must purchase on the open market adequate ‘allowances’ for each ton of carbon emitted. The available allowances are limited, with the limit reducing year on year thereby driving down emissions. The EU aims to secure a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020.

Fine in theory, but for various reasons (including the global economic downturn) the ETS doesn't work. It’s my job, together with the ‘shadow’ negotiators from the other political groups, to find a consensus on reforms which can reinvigorate the scheme. I am presently knee-deep in a series of informal expert witness sessions trying to find the answers.  You can learn more about the ETS and my reforms by clicking here.

The other energy dossiers

As well as taking on the ETS, I am presently negotiating the proposed laws covering three energy dossiers: Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM), a directive on Energy Efficiency and Energy Labelling.  The NRMM will set new emissions limits for the engines of vehicles like tractors, cranes and trains. My big push has been to ensure that farmers can still install second-hand engines in their tractors rather than being forced to buy expensive new ones. I have negotiated the same exemption for all engines covered by the regulation. You can read more about NRMM here.

Energy Efficiency is the ugly sister of the energy sorority. It retains at its heart an unbinding target, unlike the other directives. Its aim, to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020 through adoption of efficiency efficient measures. Negotiations have just begun, but my aim is to ensure that the directive empowers local and regional authorities to deliver measures tailored to the individual communities they serve.  You can read more about the directive here.

Energy Labelling is a hot topic at the moment. Chances are if you’ve bought a new fridge, hoover or iron in the last few years you’ll have been poring over the wee label detailing A+, A++, and A+++, and wondering exactly what is going on. Rather than stringing further +s on to the letter A, the plan is to reconfigure the scale and return it to a simple A-G rating.  The challenge, changing the scale without penalising the most efficient, which would otherwise have been rated higher than A.

Vehicle emissions

In recognition of my work on climate change I was appointed to the Parliament’s new Committee of Inquiry into the Volkswagen emissions scandal.  The key question: how did Volkswagen got away with fiddling its emission figures for so long? The important outcome of the inquiry will be ensuring that anyone purchasing a low emission vehicle can be sure that it is indeed a low emission vehicle.  Transport accounts for 25% of all of Europe’s emissions and remains the only sector where emissions have stayed persistently above 1990 levels. The committee will meet for the first time shortly, and I will post regular updates.

The North Sea: oil and gas

The EU is determined to involve itself in the regulation of North Sea oil industry.  This would be forgivable if its interventions were not so cack-handed.  However, last year when the Commission sought to impose new emissions limits on offshore oil and gas platforms, it failed to appreciate that such an approach would force a halt to the production of every offshore rig as they upgraded (with all the incumbent costs), and in the by-going would depress Scotland’s oil and gas production at a critical time.  Needless to say, I pushed for and secured amendment of the proposal.

The North Sea: electricity interconnection

I have also been working with colleagues from across the Parliament to champion the development of a North Sea Electricity Grid.  Building such a grid would allow Scotland to be an exporter (and if required) an importer of clean electricity. The significant investment in the development of the necessary interconnectors would be a significant boon to our manufacturing sector and draw upon the existing skills of our oil and gas sector.  The ultimate aim: a common electricity market across the North Sea including both EU and non EU states (Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway). You can about my work here.

Building partnerships

The North Sea Grid initiative is just part of the cross party work I have undertaken since being elected.  Together with the Vice Chair of the Parliament’s Energy Committee, Morten Peterson MEP, I have developed a cross party group called Energy Solutions, to bring together politicians and industry to think outside the box in energy matters.  This body will complement the work I have undertaken with EUFORES, another cross party group of MEPs which works in renewables.  You can read the work of EUFORES here.

It has been a busy 18 months, and the months ahead promise to be busier still. Keeping Scotland at the heart of all energy matters will continue to be my core ambition, and I will continue to fight for cleaner, more efficient energy system across the EU.  Who knows, maybe next year I can make top 10…