Net zero targets
We evaluate the EU’s net zero target as: Acceptable.
In April 2021, the European Union came to an agreement on its Climate Law, which sets into law the objective of collectively achieving “climate neutrality by 2050.” The objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, as agreed in the European Council’s conclusions from December 2019, has been included in the EU’s LTS.
The EU’s climate neutrality - or, essentially, net zero - goal performs moderately in terms of its architecture, transparency and scope, with a regular review and assessment process, a provision for the EU to set an intermediate target in 2040 following the Paris Agreement’s Global Stocktake, an exclusion of reductions or removals achieved outside of its territory, and clear analysis underpinning the target. At present, a clear separation of the contributions from emissions reductions versus removals is missing, although this is an element that is required of the forthcoming 2040 target.
There is room for improvement in the goal’s scope, as the Climate Law currently does not clearly state that international aviation and maritime transport emissions are included, and an explanation of why net zero by 2050 constitutes a fair contribution is lacking.
CAT analysis of net zero target
Ten key elements
- Target year – The EU aims to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050. According to the EU models, by then EU’s emissions will decrease to between 23-25 MtCO2e.
- Emissions coverage – The target covers all GHG emissions and all sectors of the economy.
- International aviation and maritime transport – While international aviation is included in the Commission’s modelling of the goal, maritime transport isn’t. The inclusion of the international aviation and maritime transport is also not clearly mentioned in the European Climate Law.
- Reductions or removals outside of own borders – The Climate Law states that the balance between emissions and removals is to be achieved domestically.
- Legal status – The EU included its net zero target in its Climate Law (Council of the European Union 2021a). Additionally, the net zero target is included in the EU’s LTS (Croatian Presidency and the European Commission 2020).
- Separate reduction & removal targets – The EU currently does not provide separate emissions reduction and removal targets as part of its net zero target. However, when the Commission proposes a 2040 target following the Global Stocktake, it will also provide a projected indicative greenhouse gas budget for the period 2030-2050, with separate information on emissions and removals (Council of the European Union 2021a).
- Review process – The EU Climate Law includes a legally binding process for the Commission to report on the operation of the regulation within six months of each Global Stocktake (Article 9a). When it does so, the Commission may include proposals for amendments to the regulation.
There is also a provision on the tracking of collective progress of the EU towards the achievement of net zero (Article 5). This assessment will be made every five years, following the five-yearly cycles of the Paris Agreement, and will track progress against a linear emissions trajectory from 2030 to 2050, via 2040 once this target has been set.
The Commission will also assess the consistency of measures put in place by member states with the net zero objective (Article 6). In accordance with the Paris Agreement timelines, the Commission will review the EU trajectory every five years. In doing so, it will regularly assess whether any updating of the trajectory is required and take action in case of insufficient progress. The Law also establishes European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change which advise shall be taken into account when specifying EU’s indicative greenhouse gas budget for the period 2030-2050.
- Carbon dioxide removal – The European Commission’s supporting analysis for its climate neutral strategy provides an analysis of two scenarios for achieving climate neutrality by 2050, with transparent assumptions on the contributions from technological CDR options and LULUCF in each pathway for LULUCF and for removals and storage. LULUCF sinks are distinguished and treated transparently throughout the strategy (European Commission 2018b).
- Comprehensive planning – The Climate Law has set an intermediate target of a GHG emissions reduction of 55% by 2030 (below 1990 levels), and requires a 2040 target and projected emissions budget for 2030-2050 to be provided by the Commission following the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement. The Commission’s underlying analysis for the climate neutrality strategy identifies clear pathways and key measures for reaching net zero, with sector-specific detail, albeit presenting two alternative scenarios.
- Clarity on fairness of target – The EU refers to the social fairness of the appropriate measures and fairness between member states but makes no reference to global fairness or equity in the context of its net zero target.
The Climate Action Tracker has defined the following good practice for all ten key elements of net zero targets. Countries can refer to this good practice to design or enhance their net zero targets.