ENVS 426

Towards a 100% Renewable Future for the European Union


20% Savings from Energy Efficiency.

20% Rise in Renewable Generation.

20% Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

WOW, i’m impressed. If you are just thinking “woah that’s a lot of 20s…”, let me break it down for you. The European Union, comprised of 28 member states, has committed to making ALL THREE of those amazing goals a reality.

All by 2020. That’s just two years from now.

To be honest, while I was in attendance at COP 23, I wished I was representing a university in Europe rather than the United States. It makes me slightly embarrassed to say I live in a country whose President doesn’t even believe in climate change, especially when I am speaking with delegates from countries that have made such impressive strides in climate progress.

The infographic below illustrates the timeline of EU energy policy from the creation of energy taxation to protect the EU energy market in 2013 up to the Paris Agreement in 2015.

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You have to be impressed by the European Union’s climate commitments. Their governance structure is very compatible with achieving these energy goals. If you have not already read my previous blog post describing policy diffusion in the European Union, I would highly suggest you do so before continuing.

The EU is a cooperative federalist system, meaning that responsibility for governance is shared between the state, local, and federal level.  This structure eases climate policy diffusion between member states, by creating opportunities for collaboration across the 28 EU member states.

As you can see in the infographic, the EU is already doing dozens of amazing things for climate policy. However, the EU often struggles with policy-making in isolation, which inhibits diffusion.

In my research, I noticed that member states struggle with transparency and silos across public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Though I am just student, not a policy-maker or an expert by any means, I offer some recommendations to overcome some of these barriers and enhance cooperation between member states in order to accelerate the transition to clean energy.


 These 6 solutions were created in the spirit of providing opportunities for member states to work together and share information. They intend to overcome silos between sectors, in order to increase ambition to achieve renewable energy targets. 

  1. Institutionalize an annual meeting to convene energy and environmental ministers
  2. Set up a five-year mentor/ mentee system, referred to as the Renewable Energy Accelerator program
  3. Establish a virtual platform to monitor renewable energy deployment across member states
  4. Incorporate the interests of civil society by developing an institution devoted to representing the interests of environmental NGOs
  5. Create an opportunity for member states to earn recognition through a Sustainable Development Goal certification process

The European Union serves as a inspirational model for other nations that aspire to deliver on their promises within the context of the Paris Agreement. Policy diffusion is one of the least costly and most effective ways of addressing the salient global threat of climate change. Though it has its flaws, the EU has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy policy formulation and provides an excellent example of the crucial role that policy diffusion can play in enhancing renewable energy generation. Moving forward, using the aforementioned solutions to eliminate barriers to policy diffusion is a critical step towards enabling member states to make the shift to a future powered by 100% renewable energy.


ENVS 426

Policy Diffusion in the European Union

In the context of international climate governance, the European Union is a world climate leader. In fact, the EU generates 3 times more renewable energy per person than anywhere else in the world.  How do they achieve such ambitious goals?

POLICY DIFFUSION is one of the least costly and most effective ways to encourage the adoption of renewable energy in the European Union change. “Diffusion” simply refers to when policies are communicated and shared between countries. This is a perfect tool to speed up the achievement of critical goals, like emissions reductions to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Today, I want to talk about cross-national (meaning transferring from one EU member state to another) renewable energy policy diffusion. 

It is common for green leaders, like Germany and France to share their policies with less progressive states, like Greece or Poland. However, it isn’t always as easy as picking up the phone to share best practices, because nations (naturally) have individual interests that can hinder their cooperation. If you want more detail on this concept, check out the white paper I wrote, which includes recommendations to accelerate renewable energy policy diffusion.

The infographic below illustrates the mechanisms by which the European Union’s 28 member states diffuse policies to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.



The hot air balloons demonstrate how feed-in-tariff mechanisms, green certificates, and other renewable energy support instruments have traveled between countries.

In energy policy-making, member states are required to respond to centralized directives, like the 2030 Energy Strategy (pictured in the middle of the earth), which sets the overall renewable energy generation goal to 27% and also requires states to submit national plans to contribute to the target.  Though the EU sets the target, member states have autonomy to decide their own strategy for contributing, known as effort-sharing. The top-down nature of climate & energy policy-making, through the 2030 strategy and the 2020 Climate & Energy Package, facilitates unique opportunities for collaborations between member states.

The 2030 Energy Strategy is not to be confused with the more globally-oriented Agenda 2030, which refers to the United Nation Development Program’s plan to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals. On an international scale, there is a shared effort to align climate targets from the Paris Agreement with the intention to end poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change.

It makes a lot of sense to me for EU members states to try to work together to deliver on these joint goals. For example, Germany and France successfully rejected the EU’s attempt to unilaterally establish green certificate mechanism. The two countries did not want to start over and adopt a EU-wide system, when they had already done the hard work of establishing feed-in tariffs. If you had just spent 3 hour re-organizing a bookshelf alphabetically, and you were suddenly asked to do it by color, wouldn’t you be upset about the prospect of starting over?  Instead of starting over, Germany and France successfully lobbied for the diffusion of feed-in-tariffs as the preferred renewable energy support mechanism. 

Member states can form partnerships and learn from each other’s mistakes to rise even higher than they could independently. As Virginie Dumoulin, a French delegate shared with me at the COP, the EU is a “wonderful experiment” in governance that enables impressive climate leadership!

Hear from Virginie Doumoulin, Head of European Partnerships for the French Ministry of the Environment, in the podcast below, where she sheds light on the commitments to renewable energy made by member states. 


Talking with Virginie Dumoulin, a French party delegate, was such a special privilege. She is an extremely accomplished woman. It is amazing to see the commitment and expertise of European delegates.