The EU has set an objective of being a climate neutral economy by 2050. The strategy which it has taken to the COP24 climate talks in Poland shows how Europe can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research – while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.
The EU is the first major economic grouping in the world to commit to one of the key components of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The bloc has a strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy by 2050.
That means that after 2050, the EU would need to eliminate or offset nearly all greenhouse gas emissions. This offsetting might take the form of planting trees or using carbon storage, for example by safely burying the gases underground.
“We cannot safely live on a planet with the climate that is out of control,” The Vice-President responsible for the Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič, “But that does not mean that to reduce emissions, we should sacrifice the livelihoods of Europeans. Over the last years, we have shown how to reduce emissions, while creating prosperity, high-quality local jobs, and improving people’s quality of life. Europe will inevitably continue to transform. Our strategy now shows that by 2050, it is realistic to make Europe both climate neutral and prosperous, while leaving no European and no region behind.”
It is not, however, proscribing new targets or setting new regulations. The work on that is already in place in other standards and will continue to be developed at the European Union and member state level. Instead, the EU is setting a direction it is committed to and a destination it believes will be the inevitable consequence of this vision: a prosperous, climate-neutral economy.
To get there, the EU will have to work hard, but there is evidence that, at least in terms of policy, the framework is already in place to take the EU at least part of the way there.
For example, emissions in the EU have dropped by over a fifth since 1990, despite the EU growing its economy as many member states have flourished.
However, there are some major red flags, too. The EU’s emission reduction targets for 2030 (a key milestone) vary by state, from around 0 percent to 40 percent of 2005′s levels. Working on an average, the EU as a block would have to reduce its emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005′s levels in order to stay on track.
Those targets were agreed upon earlier this year and stem from the Paris Agreement’s resolutions as well as the EU’s own deliberation on climate policy. But report after report has found that many of the world’s powers, including the EU, are failing to curb emissions. If we fail by 2030, the gap between where we are and where we need to be would remain or be even wider as we work to try to mitigate climate change problems in other areas.
With this announcement, the EU has highlighted a number of key scenarios it believes will allow it to correct course and reach its climate neutral goal by 2050.
The EU has invested substantially in renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, and as it stands the EU is on track to meet its 2020 goal of having 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Perhaps even more instructive of the rate of change is that until 2016, the use of renewable electricity in the transport sector had tripled in just 10 years, with that showing no sign of stalling.
This positive momentum will be crucial if the EU is to achieve climate neutrality. Electricity from renewables will need to hit the 80 percent mark to reach those targets. Taking that as an example, policy to reduce and eliminate diesel fuels will necessitate a switch to electric cars.
Another key area for change will be in creating so-called circular economies. This is one where we find ways to re-purpose the byproducts and waste products from our daily living.
Hydroelectricity, for example, has proved to oftentimes be more wasteful than we had envisaged, but there are innovations in the works that can help to close down the waste problem and create an energy generating loop that, while not completely circular, is much more environmentally friendly than it is today. The EU is looking to other areas of the generation and production sectors where such system reshaping can yield significant results.
Competitive industry could actually be a driver of achieving this goal of climate neutrality, and this is where the real power of the EU’s intention setting seems to lie. This is, in effect, a notice to industry within the EU that the playing field has now changed and that the government will reward industry for driving the economy toward this goal. That might not sound all that impressive, but we have seen how intention-setting at the highest level can drive national and local actors toward change, for example how the Paris Climate Agreement coincided with mayors of major cities taking the lead in reducing carbon emissions.
The EU is proposing a difficult and ambitious road ahead to meet its climate neutral economy goal, but this is precisely the kind of bold action we need to save ourselves from a climate disaster in the future.
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