Pledges And Targets
Paris Agreement targets
The EU’s NDC contains an emissions reduction target of “at least 40%” below 1990 levels by 2030 (UNFCCC, 2015). Since then the EU has adopted renewable energy and energy efficiency goals. This legislation – in addition to a number of other policies – would lead to emissions reductions of almost 48%. However, this has not yet been reflected in a ratcheted-up NDC.
There is a mounting pressure from a number of stakeholders for the EU to increase its emissions reduction target to 55%. In 2018, the Dutch government called for such a ratcheting up (Government of the Netherlands, 2018). In March 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the strengthening of the EU’s NDC to that with a majority of 369 votes to 116 (European Parliament, 2019b). In her statement to the European Parliament in July 2019, the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, indicated that the EU’s goal should be “50, if not 55%” emissions reduction (European Commission, 2019d).
During a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister in August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that she could “very well” support such an emissions reduction goal at the European level (Die Bundeskanzlerin, 2019). However, Germany did not sign-on to a letter from environment ministers from eight member states to the European Commission calling for an increase the EU’s objective from 50% to 55% (DW, 2019). French President Emanuel Macron was much less hesitant, stating during the UN SG Summit that the EU should increase its emissions reduction goal and France would contribute its share of the effort (Présidence, 2019). Unfortunately, due to the opposition of some member states, in its position for COP25 the European Council could only agree that the EU will update its NDC in 2020 (Council of the European Union, 2019).
According to some estimates, the implementation of the existing coal phase-out plans, combined with closing coal power in the remaining EU member states by 2030 would result in emissions reduction by 58% (Sandbag, 2019b). A study by Climact and NewClimate Institute shows that emissions reduction of up to 62% is possible if best practice policies found in some EU member states are applied across the EU (Climact & New Climate Institute, 2018).
The uncertainty of LULUCF accounting
In June 2018, a new EU Regulation on the inclusion of emissions and removals from the LULUCF sector in the EU 2030 climate and energy framework entered into force. It allows EU member states to use LULUCF removals for up to 280 MtCO2—between 2021 and 2030—to meet the emissions reduction target in the non-ETS sectors (European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, 2018e, 2018f). Since the removals were not included in 1990 emissions levels, this represents a potential weakening of the 2030 target by 28 MtCO2 or 0.8%.
2020 pledge and Kyoto target
Under the Copenhagen Accord, the EU committed to reducing emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 unconditionally. Should other developed countries commit to comparable efforts, and developing countries contribute according to their capabilities, the EU offered to increase its 2020 emissions reduction target to 30%. It ratified the Doha Amendment in December 2017 (United Nations Treaty Collection, 2019).
The EU’s QELRO1 (Quantified Emission Limitation or Reduction Objective) level is equivalent to 20% reduction from base year over the second commitment period. This target is to be fulfilled jointly by the EU and its member states. In 2015 the EU and Iceland signed an agreement to jointly fulfil the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol (European Commission, 2015a).
In 2008, EU member states agreed on the 2020 Energy and Climate Package that included a number of measures to implement a 20% reduction of emissions. The EU reached the emissions reduction target for 2020 six years early and reduced emissions by over 23% between 1990 and 2017 (European Commission, 2019g).
1 | The QELRO, expressed as a percentage in relation to a base year, denotes the average level of emissions that an Annex B Party could emit on an annual basis during a given commitment period.
In February 2011, based on the former 2°C warming limit agreed in Copenhagen, EU leaders endorsed the objective of reducing Europe's GHG emissions by 80–95% below 1990 levels by 2050 conditional on necessary reductions to be collectively achieved by developed countries in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (European Council, 2011). However, the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal is significantly more ambitious than the former 2°C Copenhagen target, and requires more rapid—and deeper—emissions reductions.
In November 2018, the European Commission presented a draft of the EU Long-term Strategy “A Clean Planet for all”. The proposal includes eight emissions reduction scenarios, two of which assume achieving emissions neutrality by the middle of the century (European Commission, 2018a). In his statement presenting the strategy, EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Arias Cañete, made it clear that only the scenarios resulting in emissions neutrality were compatible with the Paris Agreement and achieving this goal was “in Europe’s interest” (European Commission, 2018b).
The Commission’s strategy follows numerous calls for adopting an emissions neutral goal. In July 2018, mayors of ten major European cities, including Paris, London, Stockholm and Copenhagen, urged the Commission to set a net-zero emissions goal for 2050 (C40 Cities, 2018). Further, some member states called for the adoption of such a goal before the Commission’s strategy was published: in the Meseberg Declaration, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to “develop an EU strategy 2050 for the long-term transformation towards carbon neutrality, which is not only a necessity, but also an economic opportunity” (The Federal Chancellor, 2018). In their June 2018 common statement, representatives of 14 EU member states representing 76% of the EU population demanded that the long-term strategy included “at least one pathway towards net zero GHG emissions in the EU by 2050 followed by negative emissions thereafter” (The Ministry for an Ecological and Solidary Transition, 2018).
Some member states have also already adopted - or are considering adopting—such a goal at a national level:
- Portugal was one of the first EU member states to announce the goal of emissions neutrality - during COP22 in Marrakesh in 2016. The Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality 2050 published in June 2019 by the Portuguese government set the goal of reducing emissions by between 85-90% by the mid-century. The remaining emissions, mainly in the energy and industry sectors, would be compensated by sinks in the Forestry & Land Uses sector (UNFCCC, 2019).
- In 2016, Germany adopted an objective of “nearly greenhouse gas neutrality by mid-century” with its Climate Action Plan 2050, (Federal MInistry for the Environmet Nature Conservationand Nuclear Safety, 2018). The new draft climate law adopted by the Bundestag in November 2019 includes the “commitment to pursue greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 as a long-term goal”. This was included despite the difficulties the German government had earlier in 2019 to clearly commit to such a goal.
- Sweden’s January 2018 Climate Act introduced the goal of net-zero emissions by 2045 (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018).
- In June 2018, all Danish political parties agreed to set a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 (The Ministry of Energy Utilities and Climate, 2018). In October 2018 the Danish government adopted a proposal of a plan titled “Together for a greener future” with the goal of reducing net emissions to zero by the middle of the century and listing 38 initiatives to achieve this goal (Danish Ministry of Energy, 2018; Regeringen, 2018).
- In December 2018, the lower house of the Dutch Parliament adopted legislation introducing the target of reducing GHG emissions by 95% by 2050 (Clingendael Spectator, 2019). This goal was reconfirmed in the Climate Agreement between the government and a number of social actors adopted in June 2019 (Government of the Netherlands, 2019).
- In May 2019 the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, an advisory body to the British government, recommended adoption of the goal of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 instead of the 80% emissions reduction goal adopted in 2008 - importantly including international aviation and shipping and excluding international offsets (UK Committee on Climate Change, 2019). In June 2019, Theresa May’s government tabled draft legislation in Parliament to strengthen the country’s 2050 target to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases (UK Government, 2019b, 2019a), which was adopted soon after (House of Parliament, 2019).
- In June 2019, France adopted an Energy and Climate law with a net zero 2050 target (Beta, 2019). In September 2019, the French Senate adopted an amendment of the Energy Code from 2009 increasing the emissions reduction goal of 75% in 2050 to emissions neutrality (Legifrance, 2009).
- In June 2019, the new Finnish government adopted a plan that envisages carbon neutrality by 2035 relying only on domestic measures leading to emissions reduction and increase in carbon sinks. It states that “the production of electricity and heat in Finland must be almost emission-free by the end of the 2030s” and emissions from transport halved by 2030 in comparison to 2005 (Finnish Government, 2019).
- In June 2019, the Irish government published its Climate Action Plan, with 183 actions leading to significant emissions reducing in 2030 and aiming for emissions neutrality by 2050 (Government of Ireland, 2019).
- At the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019, Slovakia and Italy declared 2050 emissions neutrality goals (Farand & Sauer, 2019).
Adopting the target of climate neutrality at the European level – accompanied with a ratcheting up of the 2030 emissions reduction goal – would enhance the EU’s position as a leader in climate action. In March 2019, the European Parliament called for the adoption of such a target and asked the Commission to examine the harmonisation of carbon and energy pricing in the EU to achieve it (European Parliament, 2019b).
During the meeting of the European Council in June 2019, all EU heads of state agreed on the goal of a “transition to climate-neutral EU”; however, due to the opposition of Poland, Czechia, Hungary, and Estonia, the Council failed to set the date as to when this goal should be reached. Since this meeting, Estonia has reversed its position and no longer opposes the goal of emissions neutrality by 2050 thus increasing the chance of the emissions neutrality goal being adopted at the EU level by the end of the year (European Council, 2019; Morgan, 2019; Teffer, 2019).