How can the EU hit net-zero emissions?

Ursula Von der

Ursula Von der Leyen, President-elect of the EC, at the Plenary session of the EP European Union, 2019
Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Paul Stokes, Co-founder, Managed Security Forum, Prevalent AI


The recent failure of EU leaders to commit to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 exposes remaining political divisions. The bloc’s major economies are pledging to eliminate emissions, bringing them into line with the global temperature stabilization goals of the Paris Agreement. But the alignment of all 28 member states remains elusive – several countries fear voter backlash if living standards are threatened.

Europe’s leadership in the climate field, compared to the rest of the world, has inspired millions of Europeans as we are reaching a tipping point with growing public concern. After Europe-wide elections in May, the Greens became the fourth-largest group in the 751-seat European Parliament, and Green parties emerged as the leading political force in Germany and nearly doubled their share of the vote in France, the United Kingdom, Finland and Denmark. The newly appointed European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, promised to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 as part of a “green deal” for Europe.

The United Kingdom and France have voted into law 2050 net-zero emissions targets, setting the two G7 countries on an ambitious path that will require additional policies across economic sectors. The largest emitter in Europe, Germany, has asked for a unified endorsement of mid-century climate neutrality goals. These three countries make up close to half of the bloc’s total emissions.

The Nordic countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark – have established plans for net-zero emissions, with varying timetables, either as policy positions or enacted laws. Ireland recently put forth a climate strategy with a 2050 net-zero emissions target, but it remains off-track to meet its shorter-term 2020 and 2030 targets. Portugal has set out a policy roadmap for achieving net-zero emissions and has called on the EU to take-up the mid-century goal.

Current state of emissions

Emissions in Europe fell by only 0.7% between 2017 and 2018. World demand for power has outweighed the growth in clean energy leading to a rise in global emissions for the first time in three years. With Europe responsible for 10% of global GHG emissions, setting a mid-century goal and a concrete strategy for meeting it are crucial steps for guiding the global low carbon transition.

Last year’s special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear in saying that global CO2 emissions should reach net-zero by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C. The consequences of not doing so would mean a very high chance of major environmental, economic and social impacts; virtually all coral reefs are expected to disappear, extreme weather events would become more prevalent and pervasive, and more hot extremes and low rainfall would compound to cause dangerous socio-political challenges around the world.

Image: European Commission

Hurdles ahead

While the EU appears to be on track to meet its GHG reduction goal of 20% by 2020, hurdles remain to get on a long-term path to net-zero. The world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, as a bloc, was recently found by an audit of the European Commission to be falling short on cutting emissions in major emitting sectors, including transport, farming and buildings. The question of how we get to neutral emissions by 2050 will, therefore, have to deal with answering how the bloc will meet the interim targets of 2020 and 2030.

Poland is the largest burner of hard coal of any European country, with nearly 80% of its electricity generated from fossil fuels. Germany still burns the most polluting form of coal, lignite, which accounts for about a quarter of its total electricity generation. As a whole, fossil fuels are responsible for 43% of Europe’s electricity production. While renewables reached a share of 17% of energy consumption in 2017, the pace of growth has slowed in the past three years. The annual average percentage increase in renewable energy was about half of what is needed to reach the 2020 target. Decarbonization strategies have to be honest – building up a variety of alternative fuel sources, phasing out coal, electrifying and instituting efficiency measures for transport and buildings, and exchanging technology and knowledge to do so are among the ways available for driving the low-carbon transition.

Europe’s energy supply, industry, and transportation make up the greatest share of CO2 emissions. If we are to stabilize global temperatures, we need to stabilize the concentrations of greenhouse gases with carbon-free electricity, deliver greater efficiency in our industries and infrastructure for lowering demand – transitioning away from the industrial processes of the past. Europe has already shown it can do this. Between 1990 and 2017, the bloc grew its economy while reducing its emissions by 22%. The European Commission expects the same for the future – with the economy projected to more than double by 2050, relative to 1990, in step with a transition to full decarbonization.

Europe’s heavy industries, like steel, plastics and cement, accounting for 14% of total GHG emissions, are well placed for delivering reductions needed for the mid-century goal. A pathway to net-zero emissions in these “hard-to-abate” sectors is a possibility, as outlined by a report this year from the consultancy Material Economics. The cost of reaching that target is said to be €40-50 billion a year by 2050, about 0.2% of projected EU GDP. However, safeguarding industry competitiveness is where it gets difficult. A net-zero pathway can mean 20-30% higher production costs for steel and 20-80% more for cement and chemicals in an already competitive international market. Facilitating polices and viable clean energy sourcing are essential to alleviating impact to their bottom line.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combatting climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated. Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy initiative is working with projects including the Partnering for Sustainable Energy Innovation, the Future of Electricity, the Global Battery Alliance and Scaling Renewable Energy to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

While the EU has a relatively small share in the global GHG emissions when compared to the US and China, European countries can lead by example and show how tackling climate change can be a condition for Europe’s prosperity and stability.

Europe has already shown it is capable of decoupling CO2 emissions from economic growth – as per the 22% reduction since 1990. But with no sign of global emissions stabilizing or declining, it is crucial that political and business leaders step up with bold long-term goals and concrete policies. The majority of countries in Europe back the adoption of a net-zero GHG emissions goal – and with further steps to address remaining concerns from the few that have stalled it, there is a strong signal that the region can continue to lead on climate.

During the UN Climate Action Summit in September where new actions for meeting the challenge will be presented, every country’s commitment to long-term decarbonization and enhancing their national climate plans – or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – is an important step in the right direction to a much-needed transformation.

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

A renewed agenda for Research and Innovation: Europe’s chance to shape the future

The best companies to work for in 2020, according to Glassdoor

Mark Zuckerberg will be at the European Parliament today to meet President Tajani and the political group chairpersons

Removing sweets from supermarket checkouts could help fight obesity

Inclusion, empowerment and equality, must be ‘at the heart of our efforts’ to ensure sustainable development, says UN chief

Continue reforms to make growth work for all in Spain

Crisis hit countries cut down public spending on education

‘Race against time’ to help women who bore brunt of Cyclone Idai: UN reproductive health agency

How Islamic finance can build resilience to climate change

Back to the basics for the EU: Investment equals Growth

ILO: Unemployment to increase by 8.1 million in 2013-2014

MEPs call on Russia to stop illegitimate prosecution of Lithuanian judges

The ECB must extend its money stimulus beyond 2018: Draghi reckoning

If you live in a big city you already smoke every day

This surgeon runs a makeshift hospital for over 200,000 people

Human Rights breaches in Russia, Afghanistan and Burkina Faso

EU-Singapore trade agreement enters into force

North Koreans trapped in ‘vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption, repression’ and endemic bribery: UN human rights office

D-Day for Grexit is today and not Friday; Super Mario is likely to kill the Greek banks still today

Security Council: UN welcomes efforts to de-escalate crisis in northeast Syria

Eliminating waste at scale – eight opportunities for blockchain

Declaring commitment to ‘peace and stability’ for Libya, top UN envoy steps down as stress takes its toll

How climate change exacerbates the refugee crisis – and what can be done about it

Top global firms commit to tackling inequality by joining Business for Inclusive Growth coalition

Which countries have the highest unemployment rates?

Why Eurozone’s problems may end in a few months

How do we build a #sustainableworld?

Marriage equality boosted employment of both partners in US gay and lesbian couples

Plastic is a global problem. It’s also a global opportunity

Climate change is forcing 20 million people a year from their homes, Oxfam says

Coronavirus: following Commission’s call, platforms remove millions of misleading ads

Fear casts again a cold, ugly shadow over Europe; Turkey sides with Russia

Not enough resettlement solutions for refugees worldwide, says UN

Why a coronavirus vaccine takes over a year to produce – and why that is incredibly fast

CHINA UNLIMITED. PEOPLE UNLIMITED. RESTRICTIONS LIMITED

These artists created a huge open library – and their idea’s gone global

Cameron postpones speech in Holland

EU and Japan agree on free-trade deal and fill the post-TPP void

3 ways activists are being targeted by cyberattacks

COP25: Support business efforts to tackle climate change, urges Guterres

These patients are sharing their data to improve healthcare standards

6 facts to know about EU alternative investment funds

Unanswered questions for Europe’s youth in President Juncker’s State of Union

European Development Days 2013

COP21 Business update: Companies urge now for carbon pricing as coal is still a big issue

China dazzles the world with her Silk Road plan to connect, Asia, Europe and Africa

Ending extreme poverty crucial to sustainable future for all: UN chief

Volkswagen scandal update: “We want clarity fast, but it is equally important to have the complete picture”, Commission’s spokesperson underscores from Brussels

“Let hope be the antidote to fear” – Today’s WHO briefing and other key Coronavirus updates, tips and tools

Rural Bangladesh has already embraced renewable energy. Here’s what the rest of the world can learn

MEPs spell out priorities for the European Central Bank and on banking union

Better outreach to citizens needed to improve effectiveness of European Commission’s public consultations, say Auditors

How can we prepare for the post-coronavirus era? A view from Japan

10th ASEM in Milan and the importance of being one: EU’s big challenge on the way to China

Coronavirus: MEPs call for solidarity among EU member states

The G7 fails to agree on growth but protects the big banks

Societies must unite against ‘global crisis of antisemitic hatred’, Guterres urges

Statement on the Code of Practice against disinformation: Commission asks online platforms to provide more details on progress made

5 ways urban transport could step up a gear for women

How do we upskill a billion people by 2030? Leadership and collaboration will be key

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s