EU tables new plan to fight for ‘climate neutrality’ by 2050
Following the invitation by the European Council in March 2018, the Commission's vision for a climate-neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep temperature increase to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. For the EU to lead the world towards climate neutrality means achieving it by 2050.
In the strategy, obtained by EURACTIV, EU capitals will have a choice of eight different scenarios that range from business-as-usual emission cuts to net-zero options. The Paris Agreement obligates its signatories to finalise long-term plans by the beginning of 2020.
But EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete told EURACTIV that “climate neutrality by 2050 is of course the preferred option. It’s feasible and it’s necessary. We have all the tools to be ambitious."
Cañete added that “in the months ahead, these scenarios must be studied in detail, so that we achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in the most cost-effective way". As far as the Spanish Commissioner is concerned, that rules out all but two of the proposed scenarios.
In March 2018, the European Council tasked Cañete and his services with drafting a long-term strategy. Now Commission officials will eagerly await an initial verdict on their efforts at the end-of-year summit on 13 December.
But two lower level council of ministers meetings, scheduled for after the big summit, could set the future trajectory of the strategy, as energy and environment chiefs meet separately on 19 and 20 December, respectively.
Poland infamously vetoed the Commission’s previous attempt to draft a long-term climate policy path in 2011 and then again in 2012, and the lack of targets in this edition is a response to that failure.
The EU’s current overall emissions reduction goal for 2030 is 40% compared with 1990 levels but the Commission has used 45% as its working baseline for the scenarios, insisting that new rules mean the bloc will “de facto" hit that target.
MEPs have already advocated for that target to increase to 55% and many environmental groups want the net-zero goal moved up to 2040 instead.
Commission modelling shows that net-zero emissions would mean “estimated benefits of up to 2% of GDP by 2050 compared to the baseline". EU GDP is expected to double from the 1990 level by mid-century, which means extra cash of around EUR 400 billion.
Moreover, those figures do not factor in savings made through reducing climate damages like flooding, heatwaves and droughts. The European Environment Agency calculated that over EUR 400 bn was lost between 1980 and 2016.
In a business-as-usual scenario, the Joint Research Centre found in a 2018 study that 3 degrees Celsius of warming would cut GDP by EUR 240 bn. That estimate drops to EUR 79 bn with 2 degrees.
The JRC report also offers a suggestion as to why the Commission did not factor in climate damages, warning that the estimates could “also offer a misleading perspective of the EU climate damages because the list of considered climate impacts is incomplete", citing “known-knowns, known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns".
Its research also highlighted the stark difference between Northern and Southern Europe under the “high-warming scenario". Countries like Greece, Italy and Spain could see GDP slashed by over 8%, while northern nations would lose around 1%.