28th Feb 2024

EU to unveil 2040 climate goal with controversial 'net' cuts

  • The EU is set to back new climate targets but Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's own political group — the European People's Party — has led the charge to weaken green regulation. (Photo: Emmanuel)
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The European Commission is expected to back a 90 percent net cut to emissions by 2040 on Tuesday (6 January).

The target is on the lower end of the EU's scientific advisory board's recommendations, which called for a reduction of between 90 and 95 percent.

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According to a leaked draft circulated before the announcement, the EU would endorse a "net cut", meaning that actual emissions cuts are complemented by technologies that reduce pollution, like so-called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies that store emissions underground.

One of the pathways described in the plan puts actual emission cuts at 82 percent compared to 1990 — the rest will be stored underground.

Environmental groups have criticised this because it is unclear how this will be achieved. Therefore, Greenpeace and other NGOs have called on the commission and member states to agree to a text separating actual emission reduction figures from net reduction.

Otherwise, "it looks like we'll get a target that's hiding much lower emissions cuts behind some dodgy accounting based on magic wands to make the pollution disappear," said Greenpeace EU climate campaigner Silvia Pastorelli in a statement.

The EU's Scientific Advisory Board has recommended a full phase-out of coal, gas and oil. This is to ensure climate targets are met.

But so far, no EU-wide targets for fossil fuel phase-out are included in the proposed pathway.

Another issue missing from the plan is a cohesive phase-out of fossil-fuel subsidies, which the EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra has committed to do during his European Parliament hearing in October 2023, ahead of last year's UN climate summit in Dubai.

As a coal phase-out, gas and oil are not mentioned, the exact timeline at which fossil-fuel sectors need to unwind or electrify remains unclear.

The International Energy Agency has indicated that phase-out strategies are needed to move the fossil-fuel industry to change its investment strategies.

"The industry needs to commit to genuinely helping the world meet its energy needs and climate goals — which means letting go of the illusion that implausibly large amounts of carbon capture are the solution," said IEA executive director Fatih Birol when presenting the agency's oil and gas net zero outlook last year.

In a letter addressed to the commission, environmental groups have similarly called on the EU to include 2040 phase-out targets in their climate plans.

But it may not be easy for the commission to heed their call. EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen's own political group — the European People's Party (EPP) — has led the charge to weaken green regulation.

"We see our farmers and forest owners as a part of the solution and want to work with them instead of describing them as part of the problem and torturing them with command and control measures," said EPP group spokesperson in the environmental committee, Peter Liese, in a statement sent to journalists on Friday.

This statement was made a day after farmers set piles of wood and hay on fire in front of the EU parliament and destroyed statues as they demanded EU leaders at a summit nearby to relax green rules.

The commission now will no longer propose new legislation for the 2040 targets but, instead, will issue a less powerful 'communication' offering three different emission-reduction scenarios.

MEPs will debate the commission's 2040 climate plan on Tuesday (6 February). Climate and environment ministers are expected to discuss the plans when they meet on 25 March.


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