The EU should cut its emissions to 90% below 1990 levels by 2040, according to a new roadmap released by the European Commission.
This will require an expanded and emissions-free power system within 16 years and an 80% reduction in the use of fossil fuels for energy, the new guidance states.
The goal is designed to bridge the gap between bloc’s existing short- and long-term emissions reduction targets.
It kicks off a lengthy process in which EU politicians and institutions will grapple over the details of the proposal before it is cemented into law.
The bloc is about to enter a major period of transition as a new European Parliament is due to be elected in June, followed by a new commission, the EU’s executive arm. The result of this could be a surge in opposition towards climate policy as EU politics swings to the right.
The recommendations come as farmers have been taking to the streets across Europe to voice their anger about environmental policies and other matters.
Meanwhile, business leaders are worried about EU industries maintaining their competitiveness against the likes of China and the US as they decarbonise.
In this Q&A, Carbon Brief outlines how the commission has tried to deal with these concerns, while also setting out an ambitious strategy that aligns with the EU’s domestic and international climate obligations.
What has the commission proposed?
The European Commission recommends that the EU should cut its “net” emissions to 90% below 1990 levels by 2040.
To meet the goal, emissions would need to fall to “less than” 850m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), while “up to” 400MtCO2e would be removed from the atmosphere using both carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies and “land-based” solutions such as tree planting.
Taken together, this would reduce net emissions to 450MtCO2e in 2040, which would be 90% below 1990 levels and 86% below the figure seen in 2022.
The proposal is required under the European climate law. It is an interim target on the way to the EU’s wider goal of achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
It follows the EU’s existing target of cutting emissions by “at least 55%” by 2030. As it stands, the EU is not on track to achieve this target.
Current projections suggest that, even if all planned climate policies are implemented, the bloc’s emissions are set to fall 48% by 2030, rather than 55%. Member states are due to submit updated plans in June that could close this shortfall.
As the chart below shows, adding a new 90% reduction target for 2040 would require even more stringent climate policies, to drive a steeper decline in emissions. Emissions are currently projected to fall 60% by 2040 and 64% by 2050.
In its assessment, the commission details what kind of “enabling policy conditions” would be “necessary” to close the gap to the 90% goal, if it gets formally adopted.
The power sector should approach “full decarbonisation in the second half of the 2030s”, and reach it by 2040, according to the commission. Renewables “complemented by nuclear energy” should generate over 90% of the EU’s electricity by this date, it adds.
With low-carbon electrification driving economy-wide decarbonisation, the share of electricity in the EU’s final energy consumption would double from 25% to 50%, it continues.
The commission says “all zero and low-carbon energy solutions” will be required – including CCS and nuclear – while “solar and wind will make up the vast majority of renewable energy solutions”.
(An earlier leaked draft placed even more emphasis on renewables, stating that “renewables such as solar and wind will make up the vast majority of solutions”.)
The commission impact assessment suggests a very small amount of abated fossil fuels would continue to be used in the power sector in 2040, with gas-fired CCS plants making up 3% of electricity generation – down from the 36% share of fossil-fueled power in 2021.
This inclusion of CCS in the power sector has drawn criticism from some groups. In its assessment of the proposal, Climate Action Tracker stated it was “absolutely not needed in the power sector”.
According to the commission, the rollout of low-carbon electricity would be accompanied by an 80% reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels for energy, including a phase-out of coal and an effective phase-out of unabated gas power, by 2040.
Meanwhile, the use of gas and oil for heat, transport and industry use “should decrease over time in a way that guarantees the EU’s security of supply”.
The commission says that implementing existing measures “will allow emissions to decrease by close to 80% in 2040 relative to 2015” in the transport sector.
A key focus of the recommendations is an “industry decarbonisation deal”. The commission calls for a “firmer and renewed European agenda for sustainable industry and competitiveness” that builds on the Green Deal industrial plan, released last year.
Prominent references to cutting emissions from agriculture – included in leaked draft proposals – have been removed from the commission’s final recommendations.
An earlier draft stated that livestock and fertiliser use would be “core areas” for emissions cuts by 2040, adding that “it should be possible” to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions by “at least” 30% by 2040. The final version includes a vaguer reference to “agricultural activities play[ing] an important role” in achieving the 2040 target.
This change was reportedly a response to recent protests from European farmers that have targeted EU environmental policies, among a long list of concerns.
The decision came under fire from NGOs, with the European Environmental Bureau referring to it as “shortsighted” in light of the sector’s slow progress in cutting emissions.
Other recommendations included an extra 1.5% of GDP being invested annually in the low-carbon transition, compared to 2011-2020. The commission emphasises the need to move subsidies away from fossil fuels and lean on the private sector to “mobilise” funding.
The overarching recommendation from the commission is based on an assessment of three options for the 2040 target – an “up to” 80% emissions reduction, an 85-90% reduction and a 90-95% reduction.
The commission says only aiming for the 90-95% goal would align with official scientific advice, signal a “clear transition path away from fossil fuels as called for by COP28” and avoid “put[ting] at risk the EU’s commitments under the Paris Agreement”. (See: Where did the target come from?)
However, the commission only recommends the lower bound of this 90-95% target. Unlike the 2030 goal, it does not say the EU should be aiming for “at least” a 90% emissions cut.
While all three targets require “similar levels of investment”, the commission says the 90-95% option relies more on “novel low-carbon technologies”, such as CCS. It also requires more raw materials and brings more investment forward to the 2030s, the document notes.
The commission proposals will be subject to approval and negotiation with EU member states and the European Parliament. (See: What comes next?)
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What does it mean for the EU’s next Paris pledge?
The 2040 target will also guide the EU’s next international climate pledge under the Paris Agreement, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC).
Parties to the international climate regime are obliged to come forward with more ambitious targets every five years. The deadline for the next round of NDCs is ahead of the COP30 summit at the end of 2025.
This process is supposed to close the gap between existing pledges to cut emissions and the ambition required to achieve the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.
The EU’s current NDC pledges to cut net emissions to “at least” 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. This aligns with the at least 55% emissions reduction target of the European climate law.
In their next round of NDCs, parties are expected to submit emissions-cutting goals for 2035.
However, the European Commission proposals do not recommend a specific 2035 target. According to the impact statement, only Denmark advocated for an “additional interim target for 2035”.
Instead, the commission says that a new “greenhouse gas figure for the EU in 2035” will be “derived once the 2040 target is agreed”.
In practice, experts tell Carbon Brief, this means drawing a straight line from the 2030 target to the 2040 target and using the middle value as the NDC goal for 2035. (This would amount to roughly a 73% emissions cut by 2035, compared with 1990 levels.)
Ignacio Arróniz Velasco, a senior policy adviser with the thinktank E3G, tells Carbon Brief that the commission sees this as preferable to opening up extra negotiations around an additional climate target for 2035:
“The commission is being careful of this because if they recognise it as an additional target then you can actually have a political conversation about where you put it…It risks becoming the classic thing in which European leaders would probably go head to head and we may lose a lot of political capital discussing that.”
Rather than following a linear emissions path from 2030 to 2040, EU scientific advisers suggested the bloc could front-load its climate ambitions. This would mean faster emissions cuts in the short term, in order to achieve a fairer international transition. (See: Where did the target come from?)
In a press briefing ahead of the target’s launch, Linda Kalcher from thinktank Strategic Perspectives said the EU should be setting an ambitious 2035 target as early as possible, in order to show leadership and encourage other countries to do the same. She stated:
“While the politics of that might be difficult…It’s really important that the Europeans are advancing on it. It might be that we have [US president Donald] Trump again so it would be an even stronger approach by the Europeans to respond to that.”
Another issue is the timeline for the EU’s new climate targets.
The global stocktake text agreed at COP28 calls on all parties to submit their new NDCs “at least nine to 12 months in advance” of COP30. This would mean around the first quarter of 2025, months before the new 2040 target is likely to be legislated (see: What comes next?)
However, according to Kalcher, if EU member state leaders agree on a new target at the European Council meeting in June, then the new NDC could be submitted on that basis. (The last NDC was submitted in a similar way, when the European Council approved the at least 55% target following a European Commission proposal.)
“The EU can move very fast, if it needs to, on issues that seem to inevitably take a long time. If it’s necessary, those processes can be accelerated,” Kaveh Guilanpour, vice president for international strategies at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), tells Carbon Brief.
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What does it mean for energy, the economy and industry?
Reducing emissions in line with the proposed 2040 target would entail investments of €1.5tn a year in the energy and transport sectors, according to the commission.
Overall, it says this would have a minimal impact on EU GDP by mid-century, despite implying “transformations in production and consumption patterns” across the economy. The recommendations notes:
“Growing the economy on the basis of fossil fuels and resource wastage is not sustainable. The EU has shown that climate action and sustaining economic growth go hand in hand by decoupling growth from greenhouse gas emissions.”
In addition, it says investment to meet the 2040 target would avoid €2.4tn in climate-related economic losses during 2031-2050 and cut net costs for fossil fuel imports by €2.8tn over the same period.
Investment in the energy system would need to be close to €660bn (or 3.2% of GDP) per year over the period 2031-2050, while yearly spending on transport would need to be about €870 (or 4.3% of GDP), it states.
This investment would allow energy emissions to reach near-zero by 2040 and transport emissions to drop by 69-78% compared to 2015, shown by the orange and dark grey wedges in the chart below, respectively.
Meanwhile the proposals would see agricultural emissions fall by 30% (yellow), residential and service emissions by 77-85% (light grey) and emissions from industry by 56-84% (blue).
Increasing carbon removals from land-based (green) and industrial sources (red) would bring net emissions down further (dashed black line) and enable net-zero emissions to be reached in 2050, despite ongoing residual emissions in some sectors – notably agriculture.
For the energy sector, the European Commission has called on member states to increase the level of ambition in their national energy and climate plan updates, which are due in June 2024.
For its own part, the commission says it will pursue policies to ensure a fast deployment of renewable energy, as well as zero and low-carbon solutions, and to further development of energy efficiency. It points to initiatives such as the EU Solar PV Alliance and Wind Charter as existing examples of this.
Higher renewable shares will require “substantial” investments in the expansion of the EU’s electricity networks, as well as in upgrading to smarter and more flexible grids, the commission notes.
The recent EU grid action plan is a “first step” in this direction, it continues, the experience from which will allow a “comprehensive masterplan for accelerating the development of the European integrated energy infrastructure”.
By 2040, coal should have been phased out in the energy sector and oil in transport is expected to represent about 60% of the remaining energy uses of fossil fuels. The rest would be gas, used in industry, buildings and the power sector.
As seen in the chart below, final energy consumption from coal (brown) drops to virtually nothing across all three of the scenarios outlined by the European Commission, as well as its LIFE scenario which looks at societal changes to a more sustainable lifestyle.
(The “S1”, “S2” and “S3” scenarios refer to the three different 2040 target ranges considered by the commission. The recommended 90% goal corresponds to S3.)
Overall, fossil fuel consumption falls by 80% in 2040 under the S3 scenario, with oil (red) and gas (yellow) continuing to play a minor role in the energy mix. By 2050, this declines further, with just oil forming part of the mix.
Electricity (blue) grows to dominate the energy mix, with direct use of energy from renewables (green), district heating (orange), hydrogen (pale blue) and “synthetic fuels” (grey), making up the rest of the total.
The gas market structure would have to change significantly, according to the commission, to reflect the increasing role for low-carbon and renewable liquid fuels and gases.
Additionally, gas infrastructure would need to adapt to decentralised production, as some of it is repurposed for “e-fuels”, advanced biofuels and hydrogen
Ultimately, the transition away from fossil fuels will see power prices fall, but investments will be needed to avoid obstacles in some areas having knock-on effects on wider decarbonisation as the economy is electrified, the report continues. It is critical to ensure financing tools are available to support these investments, the commission notes.
The commission emphasises the need for a “just transition that leaves no one behind”. It references the need for measures to support those who are “dependent on carbon-intensive activities”, and says policies could be used to ensure lower-income and middle-income households are protected from steep increases in energy prices in the interim.
In order to ensure the Green Deal “delivers for people”, the commission’s recommendations include investing in reskilling and upskilling of the workforce, support for labour market transitions and targeted income support measures.
The impact of the net-zero transition on employment will vary by sector and region, it says, with those that depend on fossil fuels undergoing a “fundamental transformation”.
EU cohesion policy – an instrument designed to support the “economic diversification and reconversion of impacted territories and communities – will play an essential role in supporting regions most affected by the transition, it notes.
Energy-intensive industry should also be supported, the commission says, allowing it to bridge the transition period when it faces the “dual challenge of investing in clean production methods when available, and coping with high energy prices”.
Concern over the “deindustrialisation” of Europe was raised in the run up to the proposed 2040 climate target.
In January, Euractiv quoted European steel association Eurofer, which stated the 90% target is “possible only if there is the certainty of having access to competitive clean energy in unprecedented quantities, while levelling the playing field with other regions of the world that do not share the same climate ambition”.
At the time, EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told the Financial Times that the bloc must not be “lured” into a “false narrative” that climate action would undermine the competitiveness of business.
He added that despite “significant worries” from industry, he was “absolutely convinced” the EU could continue to have a “world class, second to none, business environment”.
The commission’s recommendations emphasise that a “firmer and renewed European agenda for sustainability industry and competitiveness” would enable a successful transition over the next decade.
It says it will target a conducive regulatory and financing environment to attract investment and production to Europe. The Critical Raw Materials Act, and the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation will be key instruments to deliver an “open strategic autonomy”, it adds.
Additionally, the commission says the Net Zero Industry Act – a provision deal on which was also agreed by Council and the European Parliament on 6 February – is a “concrete step”, which covers faster permitting, focused R&D investments and changes to public procurement.
Public investment through both the Recovery and Resilience Facility and InvestEU is expected to mobilise “well-targeted” support for industry, it continues.
The recommendations recognise the global competition that the EU faces, highlighting China’s supply-chain dominance and the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US. Europe must remain a “sovereign and resilient economy” throughout the net-zero transition, it notes.
In a statement, Marco Mensink, director general of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) says industry investments will need to be a factor of six higher than today:
“This enormous challenge comes just as industry faces the most severe economic downturn in a decade, demand is falling, and investments move to other regions. With [the] US economy closing its borders, Chinese overcapacity and exports will target Europe even more. Our companies fight against this challenge every day. Sites are being closed, production halted, people let go. Europe needs a business case, urgently”.
One key sector is agriculture. The commission highlights its decision to set up a strategic dialogue on the future of the agriculture sector in order to “jointly shape the transition”.
It is designed to address issues such as viable livelihoods, reducing burdens and ensuring competitive and sustainable food production.
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Who is supporting or opposing the target?
Ahead of the European Commission’s new emissions target, numerous countries expressed their support for “ambitious global climate action” in a joint letter from a coalition of countries.
Although it does not specify a percentage reduction, the letter can be interpreted as support for the 90% target, according to Politico.
The letter expresses support for the conclusions of the global stocktake at COP28, stating that it is “crucial” that the EU translates this into “concrete ambitious action to send a strong political signal that the EU will lead by example”.
However, the letter recognises that setting an ambitious target will be a “considerable task” and that there is a need to ensure climate action is an “opportunity for all”.
The letter was signed by Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The recently-elected Polish government has also hinted at support for a 90% goal. In January, Poland’s deputy climate minister Urszula Zielińska, announced that the country would be stepping up its efforts to fight climate change.
She said the EU “absolutely needs to embrace ambitious targets, and we need to embrace the 90% emission reduction target”, Politico reported. She later clarified that this was not Poland’s official position.
Nonetheless, Zielińska’s statement illustrates a major shift for Poland, which has traditionally pushed back against EU climate action. It comes as the country looks to drop lawsuits brought by Poland’s previous governments against EU climate policies, according to Reuters.
Few countries have publicly opposed the 90% proposal. At a meeting of the EU commissioner’s chiefs of staff on 5 February, only the cabinet of Hungarian commissioner Olivér Várhelyi opposed the target, according to Politico.
Strategic Perspectives’ Kalcher tells Carbon Brief that discussions on the matter had been “much more constructive than usual”. While countries did have concerns, “nobody was outright dismissive”. She adds:
“Even the fact that they considered [the 90% target] means that now it’s on the table domestically, and it can’t be dismissed. If you would have asked me two years ago, if people would consider a 90% target, I would have said no.”
In the impact assessment, published alongside the release of the proposed 90% target, the commission notes that most public authorities welcomed the process behind the proposals.
The Danish ministry of climate, energy and utilities firms, the Bavarian state parliament and the UN, among others, all called for an acceleration of the transition.
However, the Polish ministry of climate and environment and the government of Flanders both expressed the view that setting the 2040 target should be postponed, the document notes. (Consultation on the 2040 goal was held last year, before the Polish elections.)
They stated that it was still too uncertain to predict the impact of an EU-wide climate target for 2040, and that the implementation of measures to reach the 2030 target should remain the priority.
While there has been limited pushback from EU member state governments, some political groups within the bloc have taken a more cautious approach to the 90% proposal.
Peter Liese, the chief environmental spokesperson for the centre-right European People’s Party – the largest grouping in the European Parliament – said on 5 February that the group will “consider” the 90% reduction in exchange for other concessions, including dropping a ban on “PFAS forever chemicals”.
In the run up to the release of the commission’s target, there has also been opposition to climate action by far-right and nationalist parties, Irish website the Journal reported. (See: What comes next?).
In addition, farmers have been protesting across Europe about competition from cheaper imports, rising energy costs and environmental rules. (See Carbon Brief’s recent analysis on how these protests relate to climate change.)
A reference to the agricultural sector cutting its emissions by 30% between 2015 and 2040, as part of the 90% goal, was dropped from an earlier draft of the commission’s proposal, according to Politico– reportedly in response to farmers’ protests. (See: What does it mean for energy, the economy and industry?)
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Where did the target come from?
The proposed new 2040 climate target is informed by advice from the commission’s official scientific advisers.
Under the 2021 European climate law, a group of scientific advisers known as the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change (ESABCC) was established to bring independent research-based analysis to EU policymakers.
In June 2023, the ESABCC released its scientific advice for setting a 2040 climate target, along with a greenhouse gas “budget” for 2030-2050. (The budget is an estimate of how much the bloc can emit over the 20-year period while still being in line with the global ambition to keep warming to 1.5C).
It said that the EU should aim to cut its emissions by a net 90-95% by 2040, compared to 1990 levels. This level of emissions reductions would keep the bloc within a proposed budget of 11-14bn tonnes of CO2e from 2030-2050, as set out in the scientific advice.
To come up with this figure, the ESABCC considered more than 1,000 different pathways for how the EU can reach its longer-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and keep in line with the 1.5C temperature aspiration.
The ESABCC noted there are different pathways that the EU can take to reach its emissions targets. However, these pathways have “common features”, including:
- A phase-out of coal power by 2030.
- A phase-out of “unabated” gas power by 2040.
- A “large-scale deployment” of wind, solar and hydro energy.
- A “substantial decrease” in fossil fuel imports.
- A “considerable decrease” in final energy consumption by 2040, particularly driven by a switch to electric vehicles.
- A “rapid scale-up” of carbon removal techniques.
In addition to assessing how the EU can get to net-zero, the ESABCC also examined how the EU can make a fair contribution to global efforts to reduce emissions, by considering various “equity principles“. Its advice says:
“Under some of these principles, the EU has already exhausted its fair share of the global emissions budget.”
Because “none of the assessed pathways towards climate neutrality fully align with the fair share estimates”, the ESABCC recommended taking “additional measures to account for this shortfall”.
These measures include pursuing the upper range of the 90-95% emissions reduction target for 2040, as well as helping non-EU countries reduce their emissions.
The ESABCC added that the EU could “increase fairness” further by increasing the ambition of its “fit for 55%” pledge, a target to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030. The ESABCC said the EU could aim to cut emissions “up to 70% or more by 2030”.
In its analysis of the ESABCC’s advice, the climate thinktank E3G said it represented the “first stress test” for whether the European Commission would fully integrate scientific advice into its policymaking.
In its coverage of the 2040 proposals, Ireland’s the Journal noted that the commission opted for the “lower end of the recommended range” from the ESABCC, by choosing the 90% emissions reduction target.
In a statement, the independent scientific research group Climate Action Tracker said it was “disappointing” that the commission opted for the lower end of what was recommended by its advisers. Mia Moisio, who leads Climate Action Tracker, said:
“[The commission] should increase its 2040 target to at least the recommended 95% reduction.”
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What does the industrial carbon management strategy say?
As well as setting out plans for reducing emissions by 90% on 1990 levels by 2040, the European Commission has also released a first-of-its-kind blueprint for how removing CO2 from the atmosphere can help the bloc reach its climate targets.
The commission’s 27-page industrial carbon management communication describes techniques to remove CO2 from the atmosphere as an “an essential complement” to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades.
Such techniques will be needed to account for sectors where “emissions are particularly difficult or costly to reduce”, the commission says. This includes certain industrial processes that play a large role in the EU’s economy, such as cement production.
The world’s authority in climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said in its most recent assessment of solutions that using CO2 removal in difficult-to-abate sectors is now “unavoidable”, if the world is to meet its climate goals.
However, the failure of CO2 removal technologies to contribute meaningfully to climate action to date and the widespread touting of such techniques by fossil-fuel companies leaves many NGOs wary.
In a statement issued before the industrial carbon management communication was released, 140 NGOs described it as a “smokescreen for continued use of fossil fuels”.
In the Net-zero Industry Act released in 2023, the commission proposed that the EU develop means to remove at least 50MtCO2 per year by 2030.
In the new communication, it says that the EU should capture 280MtCO2 per year by 2040 and 450MtCO2 by 2050. (These figures come from modelling for the impact assessment report for the EU’s 2040 climate target. They represent an average of the “S2” and “S3” scenarios included in this report, representing 2040 targets of 85-90% and 90-95%, respectively.)
The communication notes that “the scale of this endeavour is large”. The target for 2030 would involve removing around the same as the annual emissions of Sweden, it says. The target for 2050 involves removing the equivalent of Italy or France’s annual emissions.
The top chart below, taken from the new communication, shows how the scale of carbon capture should increase from 2030 to 2050, according to the projections.
Dark blue indicates projected CO2 removal from “carbon capture and storage”, a technology where CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored underground or in the sea. Light blue, meanwhile, indicates projected CO2 removal from “carbon capture and utilisation”, where captured CO2 is used to produce synthetic products, such as fuels and chemicals.
The bottom chart shows projections of where CO2 will be captured from, including industrial process emissions (orange), fossil fuel emissions (grey), biogenic emissions (green) and direct air capture (blue).
The communication says that, until 2030, “the main focus will be on capturing CO2 from process emissions as well as some emissions from fossil and biogenic CO2 sources”.
Process emissions originate from industrial processes involving raw materials, while biogenic emissions result from changes to the natural carbon cycle or from burning biomass.
In a still-emergent technique called “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage” (BECCS), biomass is burned with the resultant emissions captured, in theory leading to the net removal of CO2.
Most scenarios for how developed nations can reach their climate goals use large amounts of BECCS. However there are concerns that growing the biomass required would take up large amounts of land that might be needed for nature restoration or food production.
The communication adds that, by 2040, “close to half of the CO2 that is captured annually would have to come from biogenic sources or directly from the atmosphere [through direct air capture]”.
“Direct air capture” is a technology that uses chemical reactions to remove CO2 from the air, as opposed to at the point of emissions. The technology is still in its infancy. Globally, direct air capture currently captures just 0.01MtCO2 per year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
A major barrier to its development is that the technology currently requires very large amounts of energy to run.
The communication notes that rolling out direct air capture will “require significant additional energy to power this energy-intensive process”. It also notes that removing CO2 from biogenic sources (mostly BECCS) will require “the sustainable sourcing of biomass”.
In its reaction to the communication, the climate NGO Carbon Gap “welcomes” the new projections and says they provide “much-needed visibility and predictability on the role of CO2 removal in achieving the EU’s climate goals”.
However, by focusing only on emissions from industrial and biogenic sources or direct air capture, the projections are “missing a whole suite of promising high-durability CO2 removal methods”, it adds. This includes enhanced rock weathering, a technique involving sprinkling rock dust on crop fields in a bid to speed up the natural weathering process, which captures CO2.
From 2030 to 2050, some carbon capture will be used for fossil-fuel emissions, according to the communication’s projections.
The communication says that, despite fossil fuels being rapidly phased out in the EU under the proposals, there will still be some use in the “form of oil in the transport sector and some gas for heating and industrial purposes”.
The wording on fossil fuels differs from an earlier leaked draft of the communication, which said that the power sector is projected to capture 100MtCO2 from fossil fuels and biogenic sources by 2050.
The 100MtCO2 figure was criticised by various groups. This includes the climate and energy NGO Bellona, which said using carbon capture for fossil-fuelled power generation “is both expensive and inefficient, given the breadth of alternative sources of clean electricity”.
Kalcher, from the thinktank Strategic Perspective, also told Carbon Brief she found the 100MtCO2 figure “very worrying”.
To achieve the transformation set out in its projections, the communication says that a “common approach and vision are needed to establish a single market for industrial carbon management solutions”.
It notes there are already policies in place to support development of carbon capture.
This includes the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), the bloc’s “cap and trade” scheme for putting a price on CO2 emissions. The communication says the ETS has “incentivised the capture of CO2 for permanent storage in the EU and the European Economic Area”.
It also includes the Net-zero Industry Act, which “recognises carbon capture and
storage as strategic net-zero technologies and supports project deployment with regulatory
measures, including accelerated permitting procedures”, according to the communication.
But, achieving the EU’s carbon capture goals will require “more ambitious and well-coordinated policies at national level, as well as strategic infrastructure planning at EU level”, the communication says. It adds:
“Achieving this vision of a well-functioning and competitive market for captured CO2 requires partnership with industry and member states, and resources to develop a coherent policy framework that provides regulatory certainty and incentives for investments in carbon capture, storage, use and carbon removals.”
Reacting to the communication, Julia Michalak, EU policy director at the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), said she “welcomes the acknowledgement of carbon trading as a major instrument to deliver net-zero cost-efficiently”, but added:
“However, carbon markets must change to deliver net-zero as the mechanism as we know it will not take us there. It is crucial that the right policy incentives are introduced with greater urgency for removals technologies to develop at scale. This includes the recognition of industrial carbon removals that can be measured with a high level of accuracy under the EU ETS.”
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What comes next?
The EU has a complex political timetable this year, which will likely have a significant impact on how smoothly the 2040 target can be adopted.
The European Commission has now issued its initial “communication” with recommendations for the new goal. This launches a process of high-level negotiations among European leaders to reach a final decision on what form the 2040 goal will take.
This will be followed by a period of debate between member states and the European Parliament, which could result in the target being adopted into law towards the end of 2025.
Climate ministers from EU member states will initially be tasked with considering the target and the wider package of climate measures, starting at the next Council of the EU environment meeting on 25 March and followed by another on 17 June.
These discussions will cover not only the headline 2040 target, but also highly political details such as sectoral targets and how to finance the transition.
The council, which represents member state governments, must endorse the new target for it to proceed. The council’s rotating presidency is currently held by Belgium, but Hungary – a nation that has pushed against climate action – is set to take over at the start of July.
Following these ministerial discussions, there is an expectation that a final target will be agreed by member state heads of government – possibly when they meet at the next European Council summit on 27-28 June, observers tell Carbon Brief.
At that summit, leaders will also be discussing the most pressing issues facing the bloc as part of its five-year “strategic agenda”. This does not specifically include climate targets, but covers relevant topics, such as energy and “resilience and competitiveness”.
It would “make a lot of sense” for the European Council to wave the 2040 target through alongside the strategic agenda, Manon Dufour, executive director of E3G Brussels, tells Carbon Brief.
Kalcher, from Strategic Perspectives, agreed, telling a press briefing that this would “inform the work of the next European Commission, and it would be a very good signal to the international level”. However, such a decision would require consensus between leaders and, as Politico noted, “Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán holds veto power”.
Meanwhile, the bloc will also be gearing up for the European Parliament elections, which will be held between 6-9 June.
This will be followed by the election of the new European Commission president and commissioners, which will depend on the make-up of the new parliament. Therefore, the commission charged with putting the proposed target into law could be very different to the one that proposed it.
Discussions around the new target will be taking place at a time of great flux. This may affect member states’ willingness to push ahead with decisions.
Ahead of the European Council summit at the end of June, questions over which coalitions hold the balance of power within the new European Parliament, who the new commission president is and who their commissioners are, will remain open.
It could be that the new commission remains roughly the same as the one that proposed the 2040 target in February, led by Von der Leyen.
However, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has forecast a “populist right coalition”, consisting of conservatives, Christian democrats and representatives of the “radical right” taking over from the “super grand coalition” of centrist groups that currently dominates parliament. Such a “sharp right turn” could threaten the future of climate policy and the EU “green deal” in general, the ECFR concludes
(According to Politico, even Von der Leyen and climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra, both from the centre-right European People’s Party that currently dominates EU politics, have recently faced “rebellion” from within their party over the 2040 target.)
Amid such political uncertainty, the European Council’s approval of the 2040 target could be delayed until the next summit at the end of October, or even the one after that in mid-December. If the latter, it would push the decision past the COP29 climate summit, which could affect the EU’s standing there and its ability to pressure other nations into setting stronger climate targets of their own.
Other external events, including G7 and G20 meetings, and the upcoming US presidential election, could also affect EU leaders’ momentum in setting an ambitious target.
With the approval of member states, the new commission will make an official “legislative proposal” to amend the existing climate law by adding in a 2040 target. (Under the 2021 EU climate legislation, this was meant to happen “within six months” of last year’s COP28 summit, but it is expected to be delayed due to the European Parliament elections.)
This will be followed by a “co-legislation” process where the European Parliament and Council of the EU must agree on the new legislation. This could take several months, meaning the final outcome might emerge close to COP30 at the end of 2025.
Key dates for EU climate politics in 2024 can be seen in the calendar below.
|European Commission releases its 2040 climate “communication”
|European Council summit
|Environment Council of the EU Council meeting
|“Climate high level” meeting between EU climate ministers
|G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan
|European Parliament elections
|Environment Council of the EU Council meeting
|European Council summit
|European Council proposes the next European Commission president candidate
|Hungary takes over the EU Council presidency from Belgium
|Election of new European Commission president in the European Parliament
|Hearings of new commissioners in European Parliament committees
|New European Commission is confirmed and starts its term in office
|US presidential election
|COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan
|G20 summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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