While EU politicians make bold speeches about climate action, behind the scenes the European Commission is actively defunding two of the most successful environmental policies to date: Ecodesign and Energy Labelling.
Together, both policies have been improving the energy efficiency of our home appliances and IT devices for over 20 years by creating incentives for manufacturers to make better products.
The two policies work together as a push and pull mechanism. Ecodesign first sets legal minimum efficiency requirements so that energy-guzzling appliances are not even allowed on the European market; then, energy labels direct consumers towards the best appliances.
These policies help cut the electricity bills of European households and avoid millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions. By 2020, energy labels and ecodesign were estimated to bring about energy savings worth 165 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) in the EU every year. This equals roughly 9% of the EU’s total energy consumption and a reduction of 7% in carbon emissions.
But for ecodesign and energy labelling to continue working, each product must see its energy-consumption bar raised every few years, and new products need to be regulated. Sadly, the process is now being delayed by a serious lack of funding. New files keep piling up on the desks of European Commission officials, but they cannot move faster because there is just too much work for too few staff.
Looking at the updates and new products foreseen for the 2016-2019 period, only 25% were implemented. In other words, two years after the original deadline, officials still have three-quarters of their homework pending. Since the von der Leyen Commission took office, not a single product has seen its ecodesign rules revised, even though 13 were already queuing for revision, and 10 more were waiting to be newly regulated. There is more: the Commission is now developing a new Working Plan for 2020-2024 – in the Autumn of 2021, this plan is still not ready.
Coolproducts experts have recently pointed to a direct link between these delays and the generation of 10 million tonnes (CO2eq) of additional emissions by 2030. This is equivalent to the emissions of 5 million cars for a year. It really is time the Commission put the money where their promises are, allocating enough resources to ecodesign and energy labelling revisions and extending the requirements to new products.
Without reviews, ecodesign and energy labelling policies are rendered powerless.
Away from the spotlight, properly funded ecodesign and energy labelling policies are one of the best tools we have to weather the climate emergency. According to calculations made by experts in the Coolproducts campaign, ecodesign and energy labelling policies alone are expected to deliver about one-third of the emission savings needed to achieve the EU’s 2030 55% emission reduction target. Out of the 1,500 Mt of CO2 emissions that we need to cut, more than 500 should come from ecodesign and energy labels regulating energy-consuming products.
The lack of funding is even more striking considering that ecodesign and energy labelling are to be a central ingredient of the much-anticipated Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI), which the Commission plans to publish in early 2022. Building on the Ecodesign Directive, the SPI will seek to make products more durable, repairable, recyclable and energy efficient.
It is a disheartening paradox. While EC speechwriters praise the benefits of a new, expanded Ecodesign Directive, the officials struggle with delays in revisions of the current ecodesign framework due to severe understaffing.
This situation must end. Properly implemented ecodesign and energy labelling are a win-win for the environment and people’s pockets. The Commission must allocate adequate staff numbers to work on these policies, while the policies themselves must be given the political credit they deserve.
Ecodesign and energy labelling are the biggest EU success story to date. Let’s not turn them into a missed opportunity.
Authors: Mélissa Zill, Programme Manager specialised in ecodesign at ECOS – Environmental Coalition on Standards; and Jean-Pierre Schweitzer is Senior Policy Officer for Circular Economy and Product Policy at European Environmental Bureau (EEB).