EXCLUSIVE / The European Commission is preparing an update of its low-carbon economy roadmap for 2050, acknowledging that the bloc’s current target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 80% by mid-century are insufficient, EURACTIV.com has learned.
With the 2019 European elections approaching, the Juncker Commission is stepping up preparatory work to lay down its legacy for the next EU executive.
Less than a year after it tabled a landmark package of clean energy laws, which is still making its way through the EU institutions, officials are now busy preparing the next document that will shape the bloc’s energy and climate policies for the years to come.
“Meeting the Paris goal of keeping climate change well below 2°C – and aiming for no more than 1.5°C – requires bold action, including reaching climate neutrality this century,” said a source involved in the update of the EU’s 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap.
“This is about much more than meeting quantitative targets,” the source told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity. “Achieving our long-term goals means putting in place today the enabling conditions for the transformation to a low-carbon society and avoiding a lock-in to the status quo.”
Several energy industry sources who met in recent weeks with Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Commissioner for climate action and energy, confirmed that the EU executive was preparing to launch a public consultation with a view to updating its low-carbon economy roadmap in 2018.
Jill Duggan, Director of The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group, said: “News that the EU is setting its sights on achieving zero emissions by 2050 is very welcome. The science tells us this is necessary and it’s imperative that politicians respond by putting policies in place that give businesses the certainty they need to invest and adapt.”
First published in 2011, the 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap laid the foundations for the EU’s climate and energy policy in the years ahead, charting a path towards a reduction of at least 80% in the bloc’s emissions by mid-century, in line with international commitments.
The roadmap does not impose legally-binding objectives on EU member states. But it did set the direction when the time eventually came to adopt hard legislation.
For instance, it translated into an EU-wide target of cutting domestic emissions by at least 40% by 2030, an objective endorsed by EU heads of states and governments ahead of the UN conference on climate change in Paris. The objective has since been cast in stone as part of the EU’s nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement.
“Time to build on this legacy”
The 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap “was a major undertaking back in 2011 and put the EU ahead of the game when it comes to long-term planning,” said the source involved in updating the document.
“But we also know that now is the time to build on this legacy,” the source added.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that developed countries as a group reduce emissions by 80-95% by 2050 in order to keep global warming below 2°C, an objective that appears in the EU’s low-carbon economy roadmap.
However, this may soon appear insufficient.
Scientists have warned that, under current pledges made as part of the Paris Agreement, the world would still be facing 2.3-3.5℃ of warming by 2100. Research published recently in the Climatic Change journal warned that it is already too late to meet the 2°C target and recommended using sophisticated geo-engineering technology to suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Aiming towards 100%
“To limit global warming to any level, we ultimately have to completely stop CO2 emissions and ramp down other greenhouse gas emissions,” argues Malte Meinshausen, a professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.
“If we want a zero-carbon economy in 2050, or at least one that is close to zero-carbon, we need to make zero-emission investments today, because it takes a long time to turn over the existing investment stock,” Meinshausen wrote in a paper published in the scientific journal Nature last year.
Asked about the EU’s future emission reduction objective for 2050, one well-placed industry source replied rhetorically: “How much higher can you go than 95%?,” he said, adding the new roadmap “will aim towards 100%”.
Whether the 100% figure will be mentioned in a range of different scenarios or as the main reference objective is still unclear, however.
But assuming carbon-neutrality does become an EU goal for 2050, officials are now starting to lay the groundwork.
“To prepare the analytical foundation for the EU strategy, the necessary scientific and modelling base is currently being put in place by the Commission,” said the source involved in updating the roadmap, adding this would be made in connection with a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that will chart pathways to keep global temperature increase below 1.5°C.
The Commission’s work in this context will include “in-depth analysis of the economic, social and environmental transformations needed to inform the political debate in the context of the development of the mid-century strategies,” the source said.