Opinion

EU urgently needs to reverse its climate neutrality failure

Immediate action is necessary to ensure the EU can become carbon-neutral by 2050 and thus limit global warming. The rapid rise in support of this target in the last month suggests it is attainable, but the momentum must not be lost.

By: and Date: June 28, 2019 Topic: Energy & Climate

European leaders failed this month to adopt a target to make the bloc climate-neutral by 2050, due to opposition from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland.

The target, which implied that by 2050 Europe would have to absorb as much greenhouse gas as it emits, has gathered momentum over the last month. Since May, the number of countries backing the target has risen from eight to 24. By European standards, this represents a surprisingly quick political development. It also suggests that remaining resistance can be overturned, and that the 2050 target can eventually be adopted.

European leaders should increase pressure on the four opposing countries and agree the 2050 deal before the UN climate conference in New York in September, where discussions will focus on how to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Europe needs to arrive in New York with the 2050 climate neutrality target secured, not only to stay at the forefront of global climate action but also to push China and other major polluters to follow the same path.

This is vital, as the aim of arriving at carbon neutrality by 2050 is the single correct destination point on the climate policy map. Scientists have indeed shown that achieving climate neutrality within that time frame is the only sensible way to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and therefore to protect the world from the more dramatic impacts of climate change.

This would represent only a starting point for Europe, though. The continent has not yet managed to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions convincingly. After years of decline, emissions have actually picked up again in 2017. This is not surprising, as fossil fuels continue to dominate Europe’s electricity, transport, industrial and residential sectors.

Just look at the electricity sector. In the last decade, Europe has strongly supported renewable energy, which now covers around 30% of consumption. But while European electricity has become greener, it has also maintained its oldest and most polluting component: coal.

The dirtiest fossil fuel still represents 20% of Europe’s electricity mix, with astonishing national peaks such as 80% in Poland, 50% in the Czech Republic, 46% in Bulgaria, 37% in Germany, and 34% in Greece.

Only Finland and Sweden have so far taken a final decision on a coal phase-out. In other cases, countries have just made announcements, generally within a 2030 horizon. In Germany, a 2038 coal phase-out is now under discussion. Not even this, though, has ever been mentioned in central and eastern European countries featuring the highest utilisation of coal.

Possibly even worse, however, is the situation of the European transport sector. CO2 emissions have continued to rise over the last few decades with little policy intervention by European leaders to reverse this trend.

EU leaders should not only adopt the 2050 climate neutrality target before the September UN climate conference, but also demonstrate their genuine commitment to consistently pursue it.

There are no excuses: deep decarbonisation is becoming technically and economically viable, as most of the technologies needed for this transformation are now available, at ever lower costs. What is needed is a clear policy framework capable of promoting this transformation in an intelligent way, i.e. by seizing the economic and industrial opportunities it offers, and by ensuring its social inclusiveness.

This has to be done right now. Policy choices made from now until 2024 will indeed define the shape of the European energy system by 2050. Europe, thus, needs not only to agree on where it wants to go, but also to make sure it consistently follows this path.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Mar
2
10:00

Paris Reinforce: Central Asia and Caspian region Stakeholder Discussion Series #2

Second edition of the Paris Reinforce workshop with focus on Central Asian and Caspian (CAC) region.

Speakers: Gabriele Cassetti, Haris Doukas, Rocco De Miglio and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Mar
15
13:00

Think green act local: the role of the G20 in sustainable infrastructure

In this workshop, invited guests will discuss priorities and proposals for the Italian G20 Presidency for a green local infrastructure agenda.

Speakers: Amar Bhattacharya, Maria Demertzis, Niclas Poitiers and Gelsomina Vigliotti Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Mar
9
14:00

A new carbon pricing paradigm for the path to net zero

Which role carbon pricing could and should play in the future policy mix?

Speakers: Georg Zachmann and Ottmar Edenhofer Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

US separates climate concerns from financial oversight in contrast to EU activism

Different EU and US supervisory approaches to climate risk may hamper efforts to work together and risk fragmenting global markets.

By: Rebecca Christie Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 18, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Prospects for the US climate policy under the Biden Administration

How US climate policy is likely to evolve, and which international impacts can be expected?

Speakers: Jason Bordoff, Kate Marvel, Michael Mehling, Robert N. Stavins, Leah Stokes and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: February 17, 2021
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

Building back greener: sustainable finance and the Green Deal

How could additional regulation incentivise investment while upholding the integrity of sustainable finance?

Speakers: Klaas Knot, Sean Kidney, Alexander Lehmann, Isabelle Mateos y Lago and Philipp von Restorff Topic: Energy & Climate, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 11, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Carbon border adjustment in the United States: not easy, but not impossible either

President Biden has promised to implement a levy on carbon-intensive imports, albeit without a federal domestic carbon price. The measure faces a number of difficulties, but could feasibly be implemented. The route chosen by the US will have important implications for the EU's own plans.

By: Ben McWilliams and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: February 11, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

The geopolitics of the Green Deal

Join us to mark the launch of the eponymous paper co-written with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Speakers: Stefano Grassi, Mark Leonard, Simone Tagliapietra, Jennifer Tollmann, Marc Vanheukelen and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: February 3, 2021
Read about event Download PDF More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Europe and India: Comparing Approaches to Global Economic Challenges

Stakeholders from government, private sector, media and academia/institutions come together to review India-EU relations and point to a promising direction for the future.

Speakers: Yamini Aiyar, Suman Bery, Navroz K Dubash, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Alicia García-Herrero, Rajat Kathuria, Gautam Mukhopadhaya, Ananth Padmanabhan, Georgios Petropoulos, André Sapir, Shyam Saran, Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: December 15, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Europe should promote a Climate Club after the US elections

Time has come for Europe, the US and possibly China to create a global “Climate Club”.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: December 10, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Paris Reinforce: Central Asia and Caspian region Stakeholder Discussion Series

New Paris Reinforce workshop with focus on Central Asian and Caspian (CAC) region.

Speakers: Gabriele Cassetti, Rocco De Miglio, Haris Doukas and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 9, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

The political economy of climate transition

Is the green deal a strategy for growth or simply a reallocation mechanism?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: December 2, 2020
Load more posts