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 the submission of its NDC, the EU has also 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% in 2030 in comparison to 1990. A number of recent studies have shown how achieving a 65% reduction target by 2030 is feasible (Climact, 2020; DIW, 2020; PAC Consortium, 2020).
There is political support in some quarters for increasing this target as part of the EU’s NDC update. The Dutch Prime Minister has been calling for increasing the EU’s emissions reduction goal to 55% since 2018 (Government of the Netherlands, 2018). Such a goal also has the support of the majority of the European Parliament (European Parliament, 2019b). In September 2020, the Commission recommended that the EU adopted a domestic emission reduction of at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 including LULUCF (European Commission, 2020l).
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, 2018d, 2018e). 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% per year.
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 committed to reducing emissions by 20% 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, 2015).
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, 2019d).
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). The adoption of the Paris Agreement with the long-term temperature goal which is significantly more ambitious than the former 2°C Copenhagen target required a much deeper decrease in emissions.
Following a number of calls to adopt the goal of emissions neutrality (C40 Cities, 2018; The Federal Chancellor, 2018; The Ministry for an Ecological and Solidary Transition, 2018), 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 – “1.5TECH” and “1.5LIFE” - assume achieving emissions neutrality by the middle of the century. However, the scenarios result in emissions reductions of only 91% and 94%, respectively (including Carbon Removal Technologies), with the rest covered by LULUCF (European Commission, 2018a).
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 (European Council, 2019a; Morgan, 2019; Teffer, 2019). Further progress was made in December 2019 when the heads of the EU member states unanimously endorsed the objective of achieving “a climate-neutral EU by 2050” (European Council, 2019b). On that basis, in March 2020 this objective was submitted to the UNFCCC, with the statement, that each EU member state will submit their respective, national long-term strategies (Croatian Presidency, 2020). By the end of July, five member states, Germany, France, Czechia, Portugal, and Slovakia, had submitted their long term strategies (UNFCCC, 2020).
While the Polish government endorsed this goal as well, it surprisingly stated that it could not commit to implementing it. The issue of lacking commitment on behalf of the Polish government was to be discussed during the June 2020 Council meeting. With the June 2020 meeting focusing on the COVID-19 crisis, the issue returned only during the negotiations of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework for year 2021-2027 and Recovery Package NextGenerationEU in July 2020. According to the conclusions from the negotiations, countries that fail to commit to implementing the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 will only be allowed to use 50% of the national allocation in the framework of the Just Transition Fund, of which Poland is to be the main beneficiary (European Council, 2020).