The European Commission calls for a more ambitious climate target for 2030, suggesting a reduction in net emissions of at least 55% compared to 1990 levels. The proposal supports the EU's long term target to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2050.
On Wednesday September 16, Ursula von der Leyen, chairperson of the European Commission proposed a new, more ambitious target for EU’s net emissions. The new goal would mean EU’s net emissions — i.e., released emissions minus so-called carbon sinks and removals — are cut by 55% compared to 1990 levels. The current target for 2030 is a 40% cut in released emissions.
The new 2030 target is part of the European Commission’s Green New Deal, which aims to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2050. The previous target of a 40% emission reduction was set in 2014, when the world was still striving to limit global warming to 2 °C. As a consequence of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the goal was changed to limit warming to 1.5 °C, and a tightening of the EU’s emission targets has been awaited ever since.
When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, it was feared that this would be the end of the Green Deal, but instead the EU made the pandemic-related economic support package part of this deal and has committed to spending a third of the economic support on advancing a low carbon economy. The specifics are still in the making, but the agreement on green economic stimulus of this size is unprecedented, and will provide support for the EU in reaching the new 2030 climate target.
If the new 2030 target comes into force, the EU will take a big step closer to its 2050 target of carbon neutrality.
“The new target will impact all sectors, and there is a will to fully utilise EU legislation to achieve the necessary emission reductions. The heat and transport sectors in particular will have to adapt low-carbon solutions at a fast pace, and also emissions from electricity generation will have to reach very low levels rapidly. In addition, more focus will be put on the land use sector,” says Kati Koponen, senior scientist at the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT.
The EU’s carbon neutrality target is also significant from a global perspective: the EU is the fourth largest emitter after China, the US, and India. A carbon neutral EU would correspond to a 6.4% reduction in global emissions. (CAIT, 2019.)
An important difference between the EC’s proposed new target and the old one, is that the new target refers to reductions in net emissions instead of released emissions. This means that the actual emission cuts wouldn’t have to be as big, if the EU compensates by removing carbon from the atmosphere instead. Critics say the Commission is guilty of an accounting trick, as the target may seem bigger than it actually is. However, an EU official told The Guardian that the emissions of the baseline year 1990 have also been adjusted to include carbon removals. This makes the numbers comparable and the target more transparent.
Including carbon removals in the target means that carbon sinks and technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), will play an important role in climate policies over the next decades.
The proposal will now be sent to the European Parliament to be discussed in October. If it is approved by the Parliament, it will be sent to the European Council for final approval. The timing of the proposal is good, as coal power has been struggling for a while, the oil markets are unstable, and electric vehicles are about to break through. In addition, countries that previously have shown little interest in increasing climate ambitions (e.g. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic) are easier to get onboard thanks to the Green New Deal, as it promises support to countries that are dependent on old technologies and fossil fuels.
The new climate target is a welcome initiative. The approval of the Commission’s proposal would put more pressure on countries to act sooner, hence increasing our chances to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. In addition, it sends a message that the EU will support countries in taking action. This can lead to a scale up of investments in clean technologies and more resources being put into research and development. As the target will undoubtedly be followed by new, stricter emission policies on both a regional and national level, it gives companies that already operate in a climate-smart way a boost.
The new target is a good first step, but a lot needs to be done to achieve the necessary emission cuts and carbon removals. Though the proposal states both as viable options, the focus needs to be put on cutting emissions first: that’s the only way we can reach carbon neutrality fast enough. For that, we need engaged people on all levels of society — politicians, business representatives and citizens alike — to spark the change that is required to reach the new 2030 target.
This blog post was written with support from
Kati Koponen, Senior scientist, the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT
Sally Weaver, Coordinator, secretariat of the Finnish Climate Change Panel