The European Commission today recommended a 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by 2040 compared to 1990 levels.
At first glance, it is an ambitious target for the transformation of the European Union’s energy system. But as always, the devil is in the details. And the proposed plan is already generating a series of strong reactions.
A formal proposal has yet to be submitted, but criticism has already been leveled over how much of those pollution reductions should come from risky tactics aimed at to establish rather than prevent pollution. Some environmental groups are also criticizing a glaring omission in the draft: While there is mention of phasing out coal, there is no strategy to phase out oil and gas.
“It’s like building a bicycle without pedals, how are you going to power it?”
“You can set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as high as you want, but without a clear plan to phase out the fossil fuels they produce, they are simply not credible. It’s like building a bicycle without pedals: how are you going to power it?” Dominic Eagleton, senior fossil fuel campaigner at the non-profit organization Global Witness, said in a statement today.
During a United Nations climate conference in Dubai last December, the world even came tantalizingly close to an agreement on phasing out fossil fuels. Despite dozens of countries pushing for that kind of commitment, the agreement ultimately calls for “the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” It also frees up space for controversial carbon dioxide pollution capture technologies.
Looking more closely at the EU’s new 2040 climate roadmap, around 8 percent of the total 90 percent emissions reduction could be achieved through carbon capture and removal (bringing the real reduction target to 82 percent). It means relying on emerging technologies that have not yet been proven on a large scale to capture and store CO2.
The EU today released a strategy document for capturing CO2 emissions alongside the 2040 plan. “European industry is working hard to reduce its emissions, but there are some sectors where processes are particularly difficult to adapt and changes are expensive to implement. For this reason, we must boost innovation in carbon capture, transport and storage technologies to make them an effective climate solution,” said Maroš Šefčovič, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, in a press release.
The new strategy document sets a huge target for carbon dioxide capture: by 2040, the EU should be able to store 280 million tons of captured carbon dioxide per year. By 2030, the EU should be able to store the equivalent of Sweden’s annual CO2 emissions, around 50 million tonnes of greenhouse gas.
For context, the twenty or so industrial plants around the world designed to filter CO2 from ambient air managed to capture less than 0.01 million tons of carbon dioxide last year. (The edge visualized the unnerving scale of the carbon removal problem in 2022, and the needle hasn’t moved much since then.) It costs about $600 per ton to remove that CO2 from the atmosphere, making it a prohibitively expensive undertaking at this point.
Of course, it wouldn’t just be newfangled carbon removal factories doing all the work. The 2040 target also includes similarly expensive technologies fitted to power plants and other sources of pollution that would need to capture some of the CO2 generated by burning fossil fuels before it can escape into the environment.
“When there is a lot of trust [carbon capture and storage], it kind of assumes that there will be an investment in it. And then there are the concerns that this is just an excuse to turn on more gas-fired power stations or to keep gas-fired power stations running for longer,” said Sarah Brown, Europe program director at energy think tank Ember.
Still, she says of the Commission’s 2040 plan: “In a few words: it is very encouraging. I mean, the fact that they’re setting goals at all is important.”
There is still time to shift the proposal with the European Parliament elections in June. After the elections, a new Commission could submit a revised proposal that would then have to be approved by the European Parliament and the European Council. Today’s recommendation was already weaker than a previously leaked draft, reflecting farmers’ protests against stricter climate measures.
The 2040 target is an interim target, following the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 and then move to net-zero by 2050. This is all in line with what is needed to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, which aims to halt climate change while still giving humanity a good chance to adapt to the challenges. The US and China, the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have made similar pledges to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century, although adopting policies to actually make that a reality is another story that remains to be seen. make is.