EU on track for 50% emission cuts by 2030, study says

Food for thought: a new study says the EU is on course for 50% cuts. EU climate boss Miguel Arias Cañete (pictured) previously tried to get 45% approved as official policy. [Photo: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock]

While Germany and Eastern European countries continue to oppose raising the EU’s 40% emission reduction target for 2030, a new analysis insists the bloc will actually manage at least 50% cuts under a business-as-usual scenario taking into account the latest coal phase-out pledges.

EU leaders agreed in 2014 to adopt the 40% target but their decision predated the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which seeks to keep global warming to well below two degrees Celsius.

There is now wide consensus among climate experts that 40% is inadequate if the EU intends to honour its commitment to the agreement, which was reinforced by a stark UN report last year that looked into the negative effects of warming above 1.5°C.

The European Commission has acknowledged that the target is out of date. After running its energy and climate numbers again in June, the institution revealed that new laws on renewables and energy efficiency would yield “de facto” cuts of around 45%.

Cañete: EU ‘de facto’ upping carbon reduction pledge to -45%

The EU’s top energy and climate official revealed on Wednesday (20 June) that the bloc is now set to increase its emissions reduction pledge from 40% by 2030 to 45%, after EU negotiators sealed agreements on three clean energy laws in the past fortnight.

On Tuesday (26 March), an in-depth study by climate think-tank Sandbag concluded that 50% should be the EU’s business-as-usual scenario, after taking into account national pledges to phase out coal power.

Sandbag’s model includes all the phase-outs already on the books, including France (2021), Italy (2025) and the Netherlands (2029). The study predates Germany’s recent announcement of a 2038 cutoff point for coal but the model also assumed a 2040 phase-out for every other country.

What’s in the German coal commission’s final report?

With negotiations having lasted eight months and the outcome already postponed once, the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (the so-called “coal commission”), has presented its final report. What’s in it? EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Commission’s latest models show there will still be 371 terawatt hours (TWh) of coal power connected to the grid in 2030, while Sandbag estimates just 198TWh, which accounts for the discrepancy between their two targets.

Suzana Carp, Sandbag’s EU expert, said at the study’s launch event that “it’s good to see even a conservative model providing a higher number”. Two other scenarios showed that tweaks to policies and more ambitious phase-out dates could lead to cuts of 53% or even 58%.

The study concluded that “there is a substantial opportunity for confidently adjusting the existing 2030 target, to go beyond the new business as usual of a 50% cut”.

However, Yvon Slingenberg, a director at the European Commission’s climate directorate, was more cautious. Speaking at the event, she said “emphasis needs to be put on the long-term strategy [for 2050]. Our modelling shows 45% is the baseline if everything is implemented. So it is actually at the discretion of the member states.”

How to do it

Increasing the so-called nationally determined contribution (NDC) for 2030 is supposed to require unanimous approval from the member states, which turns it into a politically-charged issue.

EU Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete tested the waters last summer but leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel made it clear that increasing the NDC was off the table for now.

Merkel speaks out against more ambitious EU climate targets

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke against setting more ambitious EU climate targets on Sunday (26 August) but supported the idea of a transition towards a decarbonised transport sector. 

There are plenty of other critics still opposed to bumping up the target: Central and Eastern European countries are generally against raising the EU target, while climate-progressives like the Netherlands and Sweden consider 45% too low a benchmark.

Members of the European Parliament are also in favour of something more ambitious. In a resolution adopted on 14 March, they called for the NDC to increase to 55%.

EU Parliament votes for 55% emissions cuts by 2030

Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of increasing the EU’s 2030 emission cuts target to 55% and a net-zero mid-century target on Thursday (14 March), bringing an end to weeks of infighting.

Cañete had reportedly hoped to secure an increase to 45% before last December’s COP24 summit in Poland, in order to strengthen the EU’s position as a climate champion, but abandoned the idea when it became unfeasible.

Still, the Spaniard used the 45% benchmark to calculate the figures in the European Commission’s landmark 2050 long-term strategy, published ahead of the December UN climate summit, which made the case for reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century.

Behind-the-curtain of the EU's 2050 climate plan

The European Commission’s long-term climate plan could be hamstrung by a semantic dispute over vague figures and a fear of failure left over from previous ill-fated attempts at ambitious climate action, EURACTIV has learned.

EURACTIV understands that the current Commission has not totally abandoned hope of getting the 45% figure approved, in order to boost the chances of getting full backing for the 2050 plan and avoid turning up empty-handed at the UN general assembly in September.

At last week’s EU summit, national leaders backed the Commission’s suggestion that Europe’s economy should hit net-zero emissions but failed to put an actual date on it.

Commission sources told EURACTIV that, despite appearances, any conclusions on the climate plan at this stage, following its debut in November, represent progress and there will still be time to convince more sceptical countries.

The group of sceptic nations includes usual suspects Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, as well as Germany, which opposed including 2050 specifically in the summit conclusions.

Summit leak reveals EU rift on climate change

Confidential documents prepared in advance of a two-day EU summit in Brussels have exposed an East-West divide in Europe on climate change, with Germany siding with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in their refusal to commit to climate neutrality by 2050.

A crucial event for climate is in May, when EU leaders are expected to talk about the strategy again at an informal meeting on the future of Europe in Romania, and then again at a regular EU summit in June.

Commission officials expect EU leaders to endorse the climate plan at the October summit, so that the bloc can submit it to the UN before the next COP meeting in Chile.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Frédéric Simon]

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