A new climate analysis argues that emissions in the EU will be cut by at least 50% cuts under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario which takes into account the latest coal phase-out pledges.
The study undertaken by the climate think-tank Sandbag includes all the phase-outs already on the books, including France (2021), Italy (2025) and the Netherlands (2029). And predates Germany’s recent announcement of a 2038 cutoff point for coal. The model also assumed a 2040 phase-out for every other country.
This is good news for the EU which agreed in 2014 to adopt a 40% target, a decision which predated the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change to keep global warming to well below 2°C.
There is now wide consensus that 40% is inadequate if the EU intends to honour its commitment to the agreement, which was reinforced by a stark UN report last year that looked into the negative effects of warming above 1.5°C.
The EU Commission’s latest models show there will still be 371 terawatt hours (TWh) of coal power connected to the grid in 2030, while Sandbag estimates just 198TWh, which accounts for the discrepancy between their two targets.
Sandbag says that its ‘conservative model’ provides a higher number. Two other scenarios showed that tweaks to policies and more ambitious phase-out dates could lead to cuts of 53% or even 58%.
The power sector is a very important driver, accounting directly for half of the EU’s emissions cuts from 2018 to 2030 as coal is replaced with renewable electricity. But it also indirectly contributes to the decarbonisation of other sectors as transport, industry and heating begin to be electrified using even more renewable electricity.
The study concluded that “there is a substantial opportunity for confidently adjusting the existing 2030 target, to go beyond the new business as usual of a 50% cut”.
However, Yvon Slingenberg, a director at the European Commission’s climate directorate, is more cautious. “Emphasis needs to be put on the long-term strategy [for 2050]. Our modelling shows 45% is the baseline if everything is implemented. So it is actually at the discretion of the member states,” he commented.
Increasing the so-called nationally determined contribution (NDC) for 2030 is supposed to require unanimous approval from the Member States, which turns it into a politically-charged issue.
EU Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete tested the waters last summer but leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel made it clear that increasing the NDC was off the table for now.
There are plenty of other critics still opposed to bumping up the target: Central and Eastern European countries are generally against raising the EU target, while climate-progressives like the Netherlands and Sweden consider 45% too low a benchmark.
Commissioner Cañete had reportedly hoped to secure an increase to 45% before last December’s COP24 summit in Poland, in order to strengthen the EU’s position as a climate champion, but abandoned the idea when it became unfeasible.
At the EU summit in March, national leaders backed the Commission’s suggestion that Europe’s economy should hit net-zero emissions but failed to put an actual date on it.
Commission officials expect EU leaders to endorse the climate plan at the October summit, so that the bloc can submit it to the UN before the next COP meeting in Chile.