EU should aim for net-zero emissions by 2040 to fight global warming

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"Zero net ambition by 2040 is bold, but we think it’s feasible: the technologies to get us there are for the most part ready and affordable." [Shutterstock]

Keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C is critical – and still possible. But it means the EU should aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2040, writes Andrea Kohl.

Andrea Kohl is the director of the WWF’s European Policy Office.

Our world is currently experiencing 1°C of global warming. Extreme weather is ripping across the planet, breaking temperature records across the northern hemisphere in recent weeks, and triggering everything from flooding and snow in wintry South Africa and torrential rainfall in Japan to a devastating heatwave in North America.

In Paris in 2015, 195 states signed an agreement committing to keep global warming “well below 2°C” and work towards 1.5°C. If we are already experiencing such dangerous impacts with a 1°C rise, a 2°C temperature rise will be far, far worse.

Such a temperature rise could easily cost us all our tropical coral reefs, the millions of species they provide a home for and a billion people’s livelihoods. It will ramp up the risks of drought, water scarcity and storms. It will destroy crops and biodiversity, give a helping hand to diseases like malaria, and raise sea levels by as much as 10 cm. It will cost us tens of trillions of dollars in damages.

It is clear that we must do everything we can to avoid this devastation, to ensure temperatures do not increase past the 1.5°C goal. In the EU, the European Commission must ensure the long-term climate strategy it is working on, which is potentially due out in November, is consistent with this objective.

This means in WWF’s view that to take a meaningful step towards that 1.5°C target, the EU as a whole must aim to reach zero net emissions by 2040.

Mayors urge EU to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050

The mayors of ten major European cities –including Paris, London, Milan and Barcelona – have issued a joint call for the EU to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

As I emphasized on Tuesday (10 June) at the event organised by the European Commission on the EU’s long-term climate strategy, zero net emissions by 2040 means the EU must phase out fossil fuels and move to an efficient and 100% renewable energy system as fast as possible.

Zero net ambition by 2040 is bold, but we think it’s feasible: the technologies to get us there are for the most part ready and affordable.

Without a doubt, all areas of EU policy and all economic sectors need to play their part and reach near-zero emissions as fast as possible – from agriculture to industry, transport to buildings.

On the other side, the EU must also urgently increase carbon removals by restoration of forests and other carbon-rich ecosystems. A first step would be to scrap the ludicrous bioenergy rules which encourage the burning of trees and biofuel crops for energy, both of which increase emissions compared to fossil fuels.

14 EU member states have now joined the call for higher climate ambition in line with the Paris Agreement; the European Commission holds a major opportunity in its hands as it develops its strategy in the next few months.

If it seizes that chance and draws up a forward-looking plan to reach zero net emissions as soon as possible, the EU will be able to go to COP24 in Poland with its head held high, to encourage other countries to do the same. It will be able to begin to reap the benefits for business and society of swift action: more jobs in clean sectors, better air and health, and a real circular economy.

14 European countries call for stronger EU climate action

A group of European countries known as the “Green Growth Group” have called on the European Commission to update the EU’s pledge at the United Nation’s next annual climate meeting in December this year, and chart a pathway consistent with a 1.5°C global warming scenario by 2050.

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