The European Commission has presented its assessment for a 2040 climate target for the EU on Tuesday (6 February), recommending reducing the EU’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 relative to 1990.
The announcement follows a comprehensive assessment examining various pathways to achieving the 2050 goal as required by the European Climate Law.
The Climate Law, introduced in July 2021, mandates reaching climate neutrality by 2050 with an intermediate target of at least 55% emissions reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. For context, the EU has already achieved a 30% reduction between 1990 and 2021.
Furthermore, the law requires the Commission to submit a 2040 target within six months of the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement, which concluded in December 2023 at COP28, with some notable developments.
According to the commission, the new target will help European industry, investors, citizens and governments to make decisions in this decade that will keep the EU on track to meet its climate objective in 2050.
The target will also send important signals on how to invest and plan effectively for the longer term, and boost Europe’s resilience against future crises, particularly through more resilient energy independence away from fossil fuels.
“Europe has already made a strategic decision to invest in an innovative, sustainable and globally competitive economy, centred around agile clean industries,” said Maroš Šefčovič, Executive Vice-President for European Green Deal. “Today, we are taking the next step to achieve just that, with an overarching aim to bring long-term prosperity, stable jobs, and the EU’s greater economic security.”
Strategy for success
The Commission acknowledges the substantial financial commitment required, estimating an additional annual investment of 1.5% of GDP compared to the previous decade. While this may seem daunting, the report warns of even steeper costs associated with inaction.
It suggests that failing to implement strong mitigation measures could lead to a 7% decrease in the EU’s GDP by the end of the century, but notes the difficulty in estimating the costs of future extreme weather events.
Key levers to achieve this ambitious 2040 emissions reduction target include a rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector, industrial decarbonisation, and sustainable heating and cooling in buildings and transport.
This comes amid rising concerns about fossil fuel imports, which the commission says soared to 4% of GDP in 2022 due to the Ukraine war. The plan aims to drastically slash fossil fuel use in the energy sector by 80% from 2021 to 2040, relying on enhanced energy efficiency and a rapid switch to nuclear and renewable sources.
The Commission also emphasises the importance of carbon capture and storage technologies, especially for hard-to-abate sectors where alternatives are less affordable, this includes industrial carbon removals complemented by natural carbon removals and land-based removals sequestering carbon in biomass and soils.
However, details regarding specific emissions reduction strategies in transport, buildings, and agriculture remain unclear.
The proposed target now enters a political debate and informs the next Commission, taking office after the 2024 European elections. They will then formally propose the 2040 target within the European Climate Law and develop a robust policy framework for its achievement.
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