26 January 2021

2021 resolution: the EU must advance on ecodesign upgrades to reach its climate objectives

2020 was an important year for climate action in Europe, with EU countries committing to at least a 55% emission reduction goal by 2030. However, not all seems to be going to plan: for no apparent reason the EU Commission has hit the brakes on ecodesign measures, a crucial set of policies slashing tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

2020 will go into the history books as a year of important climate commitments in Europe. But while emission reduction pledges grabbed headlines, the Commission’s forward-looking attitude clashed with paralysis on new ecodesign and energy labelling measures, pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Not a single new measure on ecodesign has been adopted since October 2019, even though several measures were planned throughout the year.  

The need for action in ecodesign is apparent. Back in January 2020, the European Court of Auditors published a report exposing the chronic and significant delays in the EU work on ecodesign and energy labelling, mainly caused by the so-called ‘package approach’. 

While political commitments are important for climate action, their practical realisation, including in the form of ecodesign regulations, is crucial. Thanks to these policies, Europe already cuts tonnes of CO2 emissions every year: in 2020 alone, these measures enabled a 7% GHG emission reduction.  Stopping here would be a mistake – we need new regulations to cover more products.

2020, the year of ecodesign paralysis  

2020 saw too many delays in new ecodesign measures – and several could have been avoided, even in the midst of the pandemic.  In the spring, industry associations started requesting delays in the application of some of the requirements included in the 2019 Ecodesign Package. Later in the year, talks among Member States on the  so-called ‘omnibus amendment’ altering some of the 2019 ecodesign measures, heavily disrupted the policy calendar. 

The 2020 balance sheet is worrying: not a single new ecodesign measure was adopted. The most recent Consultation Forum meetings on several important products, including air conditioners and local space heaters, took place back in September 2019. Almost one and a half years later, these measures are yet to be voted upon by Member States, let alone adopted. Worse still, the Ecodesign Working Plan 2020-2024 has not been adopted either, and most likely will not be before… the end of 2021.

2021, a kiss of life for ecodesign  

There is a date marked in red in the calendar for everyone working on ecodesign: 1 March. On that day, new labels will be placed on thousands of new household appliances, including dishwashers, fridges, freezers, washing machines, washer driers, as well as electronic displays and TVs.

The new generation of energy labels is clearer and more ambitious. The new label has been rescaled: energy classes will now range from A to G, making the scale much clearer and more intuitive, and removing the confusing ‘A+’, ‘A++’ and ‘A+++’ . Lighting products will follow with new labels coming to shops in September 2021.

This is great news but it is not enough. In 2021, ecodesign must make haste. Where to start? First, progress needs to be made as soon as possible for the measures discussed by Member States in Consultation Forum meetings back in 2019.  

Then, the Commission should finalise the introduction of requirements for product groups already studied and discussed with stakeholders. This includes, for example, updating the ecodesign rules for computers or space and water heaters, and the introduction of new requirements for smartphones, solar photovoltaic systems and smart appliances.  

The Commission’s pending homework goes on: the need to re-establish the energy label for vacuum cleaners and modernise the EU’s rules for energy consumption of office and home equipment in standby mode are only a few examples.

Ecodesign is one of the greatest success stories of the EU climate policies in the last decades. After such a worrying standstill, the Commission must press ahead in 2021. Energy savings are up for grabs – we just need to get ecodesign updates back on track.  

ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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