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25th Feb 2024

EU's new 2030 climate target slammed on 'accounting trick'

  • One impact assessment concluded it was 'economically feasible and beneficial' to increase the EU's 2030 emission-reduction target (Photo: European Parliament)

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will on Wednesday (16 September) present the EU's new updated climate-target plan - calling for an emission-reduction target of at least 55 percent by 2030 in her first State of the Union speech.

Her move comes after an impact assessment, part of the climate law in March, concluded it was "economically feasible and beneficial for Europe" to increase the existing 2030 target from 40 percent to 55 percent, as compared to 1990 levels.

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However, according to a draft seen by EUobserver, the commission has also decided to include carbon sinks, or so-called "removals" (as provided by soils and trees), in its emissions-reduction goal - an aspect that was not part of the previous proposal, and would thus change the way emissions are counted in the coming decade.

The commission draft document refers to these reductions as "removals" since, for example, forests absorb more CO2 than they produce, helping reduce emissions.

By including land and forest removals, the commission will also change the 1990 baseline by which the emission reductions are measured - a move that could undermine accountability efforts, since the old and the new target would be calculated from different starting points.

Environmental NGOs have warned that this controversial change is an "accounting trick" which makes the target looks more ambitious than it actually is.

"Including land and forest removals allows the big emitting sectors like industry, transport and buildings to reduce fewer emissions than would be needed under a 55-percent target without land and forest removals," said Wendel Trio, the director of the Brussels-based NGO Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

"The world needs less carbon pollution, not accounting tricks," he added.

In fact, CAN Europe estimates that the newly-proposed target is now in the middle of the range initially suggested (52-53 percent).

Meanwhile, the draft document recognises that "the EU's sink has come under pressure from increased economic use and adverse effects of climate change during the last years," adding that such trend must be reversed to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions further ahead, in 2050.

To cut emissions by 55 percent by 2030 will require massive ambition in all areas of EU policy, from infrastructure to research.

Buildings and transport are, together with industry, the biggest emitters. That is why the commission wants to move forward with the forthcoming "renovation wave", while simultaneously pushing for the electrification of road transport or new fuels.

Additionally, Brussels wants to extend the EU's carbon market - in which polluters pay to offset the harm done - to cover road transport and buildings, apply more strict pollution standards to airlines, and regulate emissions from shipping for the first time.

A legal proposal for the revision of the EU's carbon market is expected in the middle of next year.

Moreover, the share of renewable energy will have to rise to 38-40 percent by 2030 (from a current target of 32 percent) - and coal consumption must drop drastically.

The EU executive estimates that annual investment in clean energy needs to increase by about €350bn annually.

Meanwhile, Brussels is relying on novel technologies, such as hydrogen, and carbon capture, in order to decarbonise industry after 2030.

Parliament's war with percentages

After von der Leyen's announcement, the updated target will then need the support of member states and the European Parliament, where MEPs are divided over the level of ambition needed.

The Greens and Social Democrats have warned the 2030 target must be at least 65 percent - aligning their position with most environmental NGOs.

The liberals from Renew Europe are calling for at least 60 percent while leftist MEPs from the GUE/NGL group have been pushing for 70 percent.

Meanwhile, MEPs from the centre-right European People's Party, the largest group, remain divided, with some saying that von der Leyen's 55-percent reduction target for 2030 is already "unrealistic".

And beyond that, only a dozen of the EU's 27 governments have clearly expressed support for the 55-percent reduction target for 2030.

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