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EU leaders set more ambitious emissions reductions target for 2030

Climate Planning & Laws

markus spiske wiuxlhndclw unsplash2020 was a year like no other – but it closed with some hope and game changing news for climate.

Just before the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, the European Council announced its pledge to increase the EU’s climate target to at least 55% net greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. A major step forward for climate, this was the first increase of the EU’s climate target since the Agreement was made in 2015.

Announced in time for the Climate Ambition Summit on 11 December, this news represents a key milestone for Europe’s net zero transition as it will shape the EU’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and those of its member states. In formalising this enhanced target of at least 55% emissions reductions – a higher commitment than its previous figure of 40% – the EU has signaled an accelerated transition towards climate neutrality by 2050.

How can this be achieved in practice?

In order to achieve this ambitious but crucial target, all economic sectors must play their part in contributing to decarbonisation. Examples include:

  • The energy sector is heading towards a coal exit by 2030, a progressive phase-out of fossil fuels with renewables receiving a massive boost.
  • The transport sector is looking at an accelerated phase-out of internal combustion engines in favour of low, and eventually zero, emissions mobility.
  • Improving citizens’ quality of life with a new order of magnitude for building renovations.
  • Other core sectors such as agriculture, trade and forestry will also all play an increased role.

What does this mean for our societies?

The target will unlock health and wellbeing benefits for European citizens too. Cleaner energy will result in less pollution, cleaner air to breathe and a healthier environment for biodiversity to thrive in, while green technologies look set to create new jobs and support industry.

The decision is a timely one. With negotiations underway to allocate the 1.8 trillion euros that make up the total EU budget and boosted Covid-19 recovery package, ensuring that this money supports a green and socially just transition, is key. The European Investment Bank’s 2020-2021 Climate Survey revealed that a majority of Europeans (57%) think the economic recovery must take the climate emergency into account and that governments should promote climate-resilient growth.

An increased target was supported by one of Europe’s largest-ever coalitions, who had been calling for a revision of the EU’s 2030 climate target to at least the 55% figure that has now been agreed. This comprised of 220 CEOs, 50 mayors from major cities, regions representing 80 million Europeans, 180 organisations from Central Europe, civil society from across Europe as well as prominent youth voices.

Europe’s coal sector was already in dire straits because of poor economics and cheap renewables. This commitment to 55% by 2030 provides utilities the certainty that by 2030 the last coal power plants in Europe will be closed and governments the opportunity to modernise their energy sector and create new, unionised jobs in renewables.
Pieter de Pous, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G

Together with partners from across Europe, the ECF network engaged with different actions and took multiple steps in order for this outcome to be met.

  • Years of investments by the Clean Economy Briefing Service in building a network and engagement with actors across geographies and the political spectrum enabled a powerful coalition in support of the new target, for instance via the Mayors of Warsaw, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czechia.
  • Work by ECF grantees such as CAN Europe, who manifested in influential calls to action for the 2030 emissions-reduction target to remain on top of the agenda. It was one of the largest mobilizations to date with calls from civil society from across Europe, notably: Baltics, Central Europe, and Romania and Bulgaria, Nordic countries.
  • CISL coordinated a call with 220 business leaders that was mention by the President of the European Commission in her introductory speech, echoing calls by cities and regions from across the continent.
  • The UN Secretary-General also intervened to set out the international expectation towards the EU, so did a youth climate activist from Africa.
  • On 2nd December 2020, a panel of four high-level speakers – CEO of the ECF Laurence Tubiana, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, former European commissioner for trade Pascal Lamy, and Global Head of Sustainability at BNP Paribas Jane Ambachtsheer – gathered to provide perspectives and insights on the new future designed by an EU Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of at least 55% and what it could mean for global Europe and the world’s climate ambition. The briefing was attended by journalists across the world and helped set the media scene for increased EU ambition on the way to a milestone meeting.
Europe committed to climate neutrality by 2050, and now, just as importantly, to put climate and environment at the centre of its economy and society. It’s no longer a climate goal – it’s a societal goal for the EU. It wasn’t easy to get an agreement on an increased target of at least 55%, and I warmly welcome the decision by the European Council. This is where the next phase starts; staying true to this commitment, and bringing about real, positive change for the people and the planet. This is what the Green Deal is about.
Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF)

With its European Green Deal, new emissions reduction target, and the upcoming ‘Fit for 55’ package – the largest-ever package of climate and energy revision at EU level, due to be implemented in June 2021 – the EU has the instruments in place to deliver the green transition. But the path will not be without its challenges.

A new era of European Green Deal diplomacy will build an international platform for increased cooperation and solidarity on climate action, while renewing European’s climate leadership. A vital part of this is the European Union’s Covid-19 recovery package, which must support a green and just transition for every citizen.

The world will now be watching to see how Europe puts its own plans into action.