No sign of 'climate emergency' in Commission's 2040 pathway

Posted on 06 February 2024

Today, the European Commission has released its impact assessment and communication on the 2040 climate targets, alongside the Industrial Carbon Management Strategy (ICMS), both crucial in paving the way for climate neutrality within the European Union. Regrettably, the Commission has rejected the option of achieving climate neutrality by 2040, and it places undue reliance on speculative solutions to address all industrial emissions.
With its 2040 climate targets impact assessment, the European Commission analysed the Union’s different pathways to climate neutrality. Overall the Commission researched three options for emissions reduction, all between -75% and -95%. WWF regrets that the assessment did not look at action proportionate with the seriousness of the climate emergency, and hence the possibility of reaching climate neutrality by 2040. That would then be consistent with the call by UN Secretary General António Guterres for developed economies to reach zero net emissions by that date.

The impact assessment is very clear: to limit global warming to 1.5°C we need to reach climate neutrality by 2050 on a global scale. Considering the EU’s responsibility for historical emissions, it would be fairer to aim for zero net emissions by 2040. 

“It is very disappointing to see that the European Commission did not even look at the possibility of reaching climate neutrality by 2040, and is hence clearly moving away from the Paris Agreement. We’ve seen from recent health and energy security crises what governments can do when they put their minds to it, and we should be treating the climate emergency as the existential threat it is. The EU is to a large extent responsible for the current fire, so it cannot lean on others to be the firefighters,” said Michael Sicaud-Clyet, Climate & Energy Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office.

Nature is climate’s best ally

As part of the 90% target the Commission has also pointed out how sectors should contribute to the efforts to cut emissions. Looking at this part, it is crystal clear that not enough action is planned on the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) side, especially by restoring and protecting natural ecosystems.

In its analysis, the European Commission only accounts for around -300 MtCO2eq per year for LULUCF. By doubling this, the EU would almost reach climate neutrality by 2040. A higher LULUCF target could and should be met through a dramatic and very rapid expansion in nature protection and restoration, and major changes in agricultural and forestry practices that are a win-win for the climate and biodiversity. The analysis is clear that all sectors including agriculture will need to cut emissions significantly, and that we need a major shift to healthier diets with lower levels of meat and dairy consumption. 

“Restoring and protecting nature goes hand in hand with climate mitigation. By doubling the LULUCF target planned by the Commission and cutting emissions much faster, including in the agriculture sector, we could reach climate neutrality by 2040, help reverse the biodiversity crisis and massively increase our resilience to flooding and droughts,” said Michael Sicaud-Clyet, Climate & Energy Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office.

WWF also condemns the fact that the European Commission plans to phase out only “inefficient fossil fuels subsidies which do not address energy poverty or just transition”; all fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out immediately; and the strengthened just transition policy framework referred to, combined with adequate social policy measures, should ensure fairness across society, including as regards energy poverty and opportunities for low-income households.

The Industrial Carbon Management Strategy: relying on fairy tale technology

Today the European Commission also launched its long awaited Industrial Carbon Management Strategy, which outlines how the EU intends to address industrial emissions by massively scaling-up Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and also how carbon removal technologies could be boosted, aiming at capturing 280 million tonnes of carbon by 2040.

But the European Commission has missed its opportunity to present a clear roadmap on how to deal with industrial emissions. It fails to specify which industrial sectors are “hard to abate” and thus should be prioritised for the use of CCS. The priority should be reducing emissions at the source and looking at the alternative solutions that are available to deal with industrial emissions, not relying on future technical fixes that may turn out to be a fairy tale, or that could have significant negative impacts on nature, including marine ecosystems.  

“The European Commission fails to recognise that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains unproven at scale and is not a silver bullet to address EU industrial emissions. CCS is a costly technology, with enormous infrastructure needs and serious questions about the scale of availability of storage. It should be strictly limited to unavoidable industrial process emissions from sectors that have no alternative to fully decarbonise, like cement.” said Camille Maury, Senior Policy Officer on Industry Decarbonisation at WWF European Policy Office.

More worryingly, the ICM Strategy foresees that there will still be CCS of fossil fuel emissions in the power sector in 2050 - a sector that has much cheaper and cleaner alternatives and must be fully decarbonised well before that date. The EU made a big point of this at COP28 in Dubai, with Commissioner Hoesktra stating that “we cannot CCS ourselves out of the problem”. This latest strategy backtracks on that position, and it should be made much clearer that CCS cannot be used as an excuse for continued fossil fuel use.

Florian Cassier
Climate Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office 
+32 479 33 92 11
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