EU Commission presents plan to go carbon neutral by 2050


As the world’s politicians pack their suitcases for COP24 in Katowice, Poland, the EU Commission has presented a new 2050 vision, which could set the tone for negotiations.

According to the publication, the European Union is striving for complete carbon-neutrality by 2050. The plan encompasses all sectors and industries, while focusing on social aspects, to enable a just and fair transition into a carbon-neutral era.

Presented yesterday, it is still just a vision and has yet to be approved by the revelant authorities. To this end, the commission has invited the European Council, the European Parliament and the Committee of Regions, as well as the Economic and Social Committee to attend a conference on May 9, 2019, in Sibiu, Romania.

Pivotal power

In presenting the vision, Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action Miguel Arias Cañete and European Commissioner for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič highlighted the importance of accelerating the transition towards renewable energy.

According to a statement released, 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions derive from the energy sector. The plan proposes relying on 80% renewable energy capacity by 2050. They say the importance of this endeavor will become clearer over the next decades, as more industries run on electricity rather than other means of energy.

Presenting the vision, Šefčovič said, “The policies put in place so far will go a long way – even after 2030 – but they will only bring us to emission reductions of around 60% by 2050. This is not sufficient for the EU to contribute to the Paris Agreement's temperature goals.”

The commissioner went on to explain that such a policy will reduce fossil fuel imports to the EU and save €2 trillion to €3 trillion after 2030. These savings could be used to cover the investments needs of €175 billion to €290 billion per year needed to achieve a net zero greenhouse gas economy. Currently, the EU pays around 2% of GDP into its energy system; to achieve carbon neutrality, investments would need to be ramped up to meet 2.8% of GDP.

Such an investment would also result in boosting the local economy and creating jobs, as opposed to spending it on fuels that are “just” burned. In return for the extra spending, the EU is likely to see benefits to its GDP in the 2% region, the commissioner said.

Reportedly, there are several hundred million euros to be saved on public health as a result of cleaning up air pollution. Additionally, the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is causing costly destruction. Investing in a modern economy, as opposed to the reconstruction of destroyed regions, further adds to the business case of the plan.

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Cañete said, “It is possible with current technologies and those close to deployment. And it is in Europe's interest to stop spending on fossil fuel imports and invest in meaningful improvements to the daily lives of all Europeans. No European, no region should be left behind. The EU will support those more impacted by this transition so that everyone's ready to adapt to the new requirements of a climate neutral economy.”

Ambitious but realistic?

The present communication does not further specify how the plan should be achieved. Despite the promising-sounding language, it is hard to forget that the EU has just passed a new renewable energy directive, which raised its RE target to 32%. However, this process was long and met with considerable headwind along its legislative way. Higher targets were on the plate, but could not find a majority in the different institutions.

Also, a new report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA), named TERM 2018 – Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism report, paints a sober picture of the EU transport sector’s performance in reducing its impact on the climate.

Overall, the report finds that electric vehicle (EV) adoption rates remain woefully low, despite what looks like an impressive growth rate of 51% compared to 2016. The total share of new vehicle registrations in the EU is just 0.6% for Battery EV’s (BEV) and 0.8% for Plug-in Hybrid EVs (PHEV).

Indeed, the report suggests emissions resulting from the personal transport sector are on the rise. Specifically, it says they have been growing since 2014, while in 2016 and 2017, they reached a point where they were 26% and 28% higher, respectively, relative to 1990. A dent in emissions prior to 2014 has been connected to rising fuel costs as a result of an oil crisis, as well as the economic crisis that hit the EU and reduced overall mobility.

Whether the Commission can execute such an ambitious plan, which is adopted across all levels of the EU and its member states, remains to be seen. However, at least it has something renewable to pack for its trip to Poland, unlike Germany, which will fail to arrive in Katowice with a coal exit plan, while France has this week decided to extend its nuclear power station lifetimes by another 10 years, and the United Kingdom is proposing to end any kind remuneration for small-scale PV systems.

According to the Paris Agreement, participating countries must submit their draft Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020. As part of an “ambitious strategy”, EU member states have been requested to submit their plans by the end of this year, so that a coordinated EU-wide strategy can be presented by 2020.

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