Wind turbines in Boulogne-sur-mer, France. Photo: Getty Images
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The UK is one of the worst nations in the EU for renewable energy

The latest figures on the progress EU nations are making towards reducing their use of non-renewable energy show the UK scraping in near the bottom of the class.

The United Kingdom is doing piss-poorly in increasing its use of renewable energy in comparison to its European counterparts, according to figures released this week. The UK is the farthest, by considerable distance, from in reaching its Europe 2020 target for reducing emissions, relative to other EU nations.

According to Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, the 26-member block broke past 15 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources in 2013, up from 14.3 per cent in 2012. The EU already seems to be well on its way to reach its target of the gross share of renewable energy consumption being 20 per cent by 2020. That "gross share" is defined by the Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC as the total amount of renewable energy supplied to industry, transport, households, services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries - and every EU Member States has its own Europe 2020 target, many of which are much higher than 20 per cent. It means that the EU needs an average rise of 0.7 per cent a year to reach a 19.9 per cent by 2020.

Looking through the status for different EU nations, however, shows that some countries are much, much better than others at getting on with the task. Although by no means a competition, Sweden is miles ahead - it produced 52.1 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in 2013, beating contenders Latvia (37.1 per cent), Finland (36.8 per cent) and Austria (32.6 per cent) by some distance. The UK, by contrast, only managed a renewable share of 5.1 per cent, putting it in the bottom four with the Netherlands (4.5 per cent), Malta (3.8 per cent) and Luxembourg (3.6 per cent).

Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden have already reached their 2020 target, and nearly at the finish line as well are Lithuania, Romania and Italy, each less than 0.5 percentage points from their targets. Not only does the UK have one of the most unambitious targets - 15 per cent, compared to 30 for Denmark, for example, or 67.5 for Norway - but it's also the farthest away of any EU nation. The EU may appear on course to meet the 2020 goal, but some nations are pulling their weight more than others.

Tosin Thompson writes about science and was the New Statesman's 2015 Wellcome Trust Scholar. 

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.