The European Commission’s recommended 2040 climate target aims for an ambitious 90% emissions reduction, but relies heavily on carbon capture and storage (CCS), and has removed references to agriculture decarbonisation goals following weeks of protests.
In its recommendation, published on February 6, the Commission says the new target is in line with the advice of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change (ESABCC) and the EU's commitments under the Paris Agreement. However, non-profit Climate Action Tracker (CAT) deems it “not quite 1.5°C compatible”.
In particular, the organisation expressed concerns that the new target assumes no update of the 2030 target despite repeated promises by the EU to do so, doesn't include a phase-out of fossil fuels, and relies heavily on fossil carbon capture and storage (CCS) including in the power sector.
EU 2040 climate target: a new carbon economy
The draft EU 2040 climate target, which will serve as a basis for stakeholder engagement ahead of defining the EU’s next round of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, makes it clear that success hinges on the large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage, “as well as the use of captured carbon in industry” and carbon removals. As part of its plan, the EU plans to help develop a CO2 supply chain and transport infrastructure.
But this decision has been criticised as “turning a problem into a commodity” by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an environmental group consisting of 180 member organisations in 40 countries. “Instead of preventing emissions by prioritising cost-effective and safe solutions, such as circularity and material and energy efficiency, the Commission decided to gamble on carbon capture to achieve the 2040 target. This careless plan does not pay attention to the risks associated with carbon capture performances and casts strong doubts on the likelihood of achieving the 2040 goal,” said Riccardo Nigro, EEB’s Senior Policy Officer for Zero Pollution Industry.
CCS technologies are gaining protagonism on the global climate scene, particularly as a decarbonisation solution for fossil fuel production and heavy industry. But experts warn that relying too much on large-scale CCS, a technology that has historically not met performance expectations, could lead to excess greenhouse gas emissions of 86 billion tonnes between 2020 and 2050.
Overall, the Climate Action Tracker estimates that the proposed 90% reduction by 2040 below 1990 levels is actually only an 84% reduction below 1990 for all sectors – excluding land use change and forestry, as that sector is assumed to remain a net sink. “Climate change impacts, particularly in 2023, have shown that relying on forest removals is a risky strategy,” said the non-profit.
EU 2040 climate target: agriculture gets a pass
Additionally, the EU Commission’s recommendations appear to have backtracked around agriculture targets following weeks of protests (which also led to the scrapping of pesticide reduction goals). A previous draft, seen by Reuters, had set a 30% reduction target for non-CO2 emissions in the sector, from a 2015 baseline, but that was removed from the final draft.
This is despite the fact that the EU is one of the signatories of the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action unveiled at COP28, which mandates the inclusion of agri-food systems into NDCs by 2025.
Mathieu Mal, Policy Officer for Agriculture and Climate at the European Environmental Bureau said: “The agri-food sector can and must contribute to EU climate ambition. It is therefore highly disappointing to see another opportunity to set an ambitious target to bring the sector in line with overall climate targets pass by. This lack of ambition will not only hinder the EU’s efforts to tackle emissions and reach climate neutrality, but by failing to look at holistic long-term solutions, the EU fails to act on other areas impacted by our agri-food systems. Further delays and short-term concessions will ultimately harm EU farmers and agriculture, including threatening long-term food security.”
Reactions from sustainability heads
The recommended target was generally welcomed by sustainability professionals. Ball Corporation’s Chief Sustainability Officer Ramon Arratia said: “It will make Europe more resilient and autonomous while boosting competitiveness and creating jobs.”
Swedish power company Vattenfall’s VP of Corporate Sustainability, Annika Ramsköld, added that the target will make sure “we act fast, together and widely enough” and help European industry, investors, citizens and governments “to make decisions already now that will keep EU on track to meet its climate neutrality objective in 2050”.
Climate disclosure organisation CDP recognised the recommendation as “a vital starting point”, despite the fact that “it falls short of the more ambitious, science-based 90-95% target - and excludes key agriculture targets”.
European citizens will elect new members of parliament in June 2024, with polls indicating a potential shift to more right-wing and less green parties – which could make it difficult to pass the climate target recommendation in its current form.
The legislative proposal is expected to be debated in parliament throughout 2025, with the goal of submitting the EU’s next NDC by November 2025, ahead of COP30.