The European Commission will argue this week in favour of a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and push for higher shares of renewable energy as part of an ambitious plan to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, EURACTIV has learned.
The move will be confirmed on Wednesday (16 September) when Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will make the announcement in her first State of the Union address before the European Parliament in Brussels.
Europe’s unprecedented economic response to the COVID-19 crisis “offers a unique opportunity to accelerate the transition to a climate-neutral economy,” the European Commission will argue in a document expected to be published on Thursday.
With its €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery plan spanning the next seven years (2021-2027), the EU is now in a good position to “make EU business and industry global trailblazers” in the race for a greener and more connected economy, says the policy paper, obtained by EURACTIV.
“An emissions reduction of 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, is both economically feasible and beneficial for Europe” if the right policies are put in place, the document argues, citing an in-depth cost-benefit study that will be unveiled on Thursday together with the new climate proposals.
The 2030 climate target is the centrepiece of the Commission’s Green Deal, which aims to make Europe the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050 while cutting pollution levels down to zero.
Importantly, the Commission proposal will not be conditional on other countries or regions signing up to similar climate objectives.
Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the Green Deal remains “the top political priority” of Commission President von der Leyen who described it as Europe’s “new growth strategy” when she took office in December.
The health crisis “requires urgent action but our efforts to tackle one crisis must not hasten or worsen another,” the document argues, warning that “postponing climate action or rolling back measures is not an option for the European Union.”
“The long-term economic disruptions resulting from inaction would far outweigh the costs of investing in ambitious climate action today,” the EU executive contends.
Renewables to make up to 40% of EU energy mix by 2030
Cutting emissions by 55% will require raising the EU’s ambitions in all areas, including renewable energies, whose share in the energy mix will have to rise to 38-40% by 2030, up from a current target of 32%, the document says.
Conversely, coal consumption would need to be reduced by 70% compared to 2015 and “oil and gas by more than 30% and 25%” respectively.
But getting there also represents “a significant investment challenge,” the Commission admits, saying it will need to “significantly step up action” in all sectors of the economy – including agriculture, forestry, energy, and especially buildings and transport, where emissions have continued to rise over the past years.
Overall, annual investments in clean energy will have to increase by “around €350 billion per year,” the document states. At the same time, “accelerating the transition will help modernise the whole economy,” it adds, saying EU leadership on climate change will give European firms a competitive edge on world markets.
Complacency is not an option, the Commission argues, citing scientific reports by the IPCC warning that the planet is getting closer to global warming “tipping points” such as a slowdown of the Gulf Stream caused by melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica.
“We have a responsibility to act decisively in the interest of future generations,” the Commission insists. “If the EU shows that it can be done, many governments and citizens around the world will see that growing prosperity can be combined” with ambitious climate action, it adds.
Once published, the document will be forwarded for discussion and approval by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, representing the 27 EU member states.
In Parliament, the battle lines are already drawn. The Socialists, Greens and leftists are pushing for a 65% emissions cut, saying this is the only target that is consistent with science and the 2°C warming objective of the Paris Agreement.
The Liberals will defend a 60% cut, while the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in Parliament, seems ready to abandon its traditionally conservative stance on climate policy to support a 55% target.
In Council, resistance is expected to come mainly from the Eastern EU countries, whose economies are still largely dependent on polluting industries and fear the social and economic consequences of the green transition.
New climate targets must be “realistic” and take into account “the real social, environmental and economic costs for us all,” warned the environment ministers of Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia in a letter to the Commission in July.
Those fears were echoed by energy-intensive industries like cement, steel, aluminium and chemicals, which face the biggest challenge in reducing their emissions.
“The EU Commission must first carefully assess the impact of a higher target on EU industries’ competitiveness,” said European Aluminium, an industry association.
“In the last decade the EU has lost around 1/3 of its primary aluminium production capacity and we continue to face higher energy costs compared to our global competitors,” which are not subject to the EU carbon market and face lower electricity prices, the industry association argues.
To address this, the Commission will have to “outline measures to protect our industry against carbon leakage,” it added, referring to the risk that industries relocate factories abroad or invest outside of Europe where production costs are cheaper.
“In priority, we expect the EU Commission to present a clear strategy to ensure the availability of climate neutral electricity at globally competitive prices, including support schemes to facilitate corporate investments in renewable technologies,” European Aluminium told EURACTIV in emailed comments.
A public debate will now be launched in the autumn to increase the EU’s contribution to the Paris Agreement “before the end of the year” and set the stage for the Commission to put forward a raft of new legislative proposals by June 2021.
LEAK 2030 target plan_FS
> Read the full policy document below or click here to download:
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]