The EU needs a bold target for net-zero emissions - here’s why

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11 July 2018

Today, the European Commission is concluding a first  stakeholders consultation on its strategy for long term emissions reductions. In this blog Virginia Bagnoli, European Government Relations Manager, and Constant Alarcon, RE100 Campaign Manager, The Climate Group, argue that the leadership of the EU’s regional governments and businesses should inspire the EU to set a bold, credible and truly transformative target: net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

In March 2018, when EU leaders asked the Commission to develop a strategy for reducing European emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement signed more than two years earlier, it looked like the bloc was finally stepping up to the challenge of restoring its international climate leadership.

Fortunately, not all parties have taken as long to act. Since the Paris Agreement, businesses and regional governments have shown unprecedented international leadership in setting long term decarbonization targets and driving the transition to clean, healthy energy systems. Through this, they have emerged as game-changers on climate ambition in Europe.

European regions lead the way

In fact, since 2015, 40 European regions and ten EU Member States have joined the Under2 Coalition, making European governments its largest constituency. Membership of the coalition demonstrates a clear and lasting commitment to long-term emissions reduction, as it involves committing to limiting emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels, or to below 2 annual metric tons per capita, by 2050. This should give the EU the confidence to set a bold target, knowing that it is supported by action and ambition at the regional level.

The Under2 Coalition sparks positive peer pressure which often leads to concrete, ambitious action on the ground. Examples include the Basque Country developing a sound economic analysis of its path to a 2050 climate goal and modernizing its electricity grid by installing 400,000 smart meters, as well as the Scottish Government setting a net-zero emissions target.

Many European regions also go as far as transparently reporting of their actions, targets and emissions reduction data. European regions participating in last year’s Annual Disclosure represent US$4.8 trillion in GDP, 135 million people and total emissions of 1.4 GtCO2e. Sixteen of these regions have also legislated for a decarbonization target by 2050.

Business picks up the pace

European businesses are also playing their part to accelerate the clean energy transition. In the EU, 64 companies have committed to RE100, an initiative led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, which commits them to source 100% of their electricity from renewable sources – in line with what the Paris Agreement requires for the power sector. Many more global RE100 members also have large operations in the EU.

The latest RE100 Progress and Insights Report shows that  RE100 members are sourcing 61% of their electricity from clean energy sources in Europe – double the total EU average of 29.6%. They are innovating to increase the scale and impact of their sourcing strategies too – an example being Google, DSM, Royal Philips and AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals signing a joint PPA for two large wind farms in the Netherlands.

For these companies, the business case for engaging in the clean energy transition beyond the power sector is clear as well. More and more leading businesses are also committing to transformational targets on energy productivity and electric vehicles, through The Climate Group’s initiatives EP100 (in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy) and EV100. Heathrow Airport, for example, now has the highest density charging infrastructure for EVs in Europe, and over 800 vehicles in operation. The Irish construction company Sisk recently joined EP100, committing to double its energy productivity by 2030.

These pioneering businesses will all make an instrumental contribution to the newly approved EU energy targets. To create greater change, all they now need is the right policy environment providing the clarity and confidence needed to progress sustainable growth strategies.

A call for a long-term target compliant with the Paris Agreement

Those commitments and actions send an unmistakable signal to EU institutions to step up the ambition of their current target, now widely out of date. This target must be in line with what science tells us. For the EU, what that means is clear: net-zero emissions no later than 2050, to keep temperature rise well below 2°C.

Our partner European regions and businesses have embraced the opportunities of the low carbon economy and are showing the art of the possible. This should give the EU the confidence it needs to build consensus around a bold ‘net-zero’ objective by the end of this administration.

The EU must also develop consistent sectoral policies (especially on energy and transport) and update its Nationally Determined Contribution. The existing target of 40% emissions reduction by 2030 is significantly behind what is necessary and achievable by the European Union.

Having those signals and policies in place will unlock corporate investment at scale. Policy visibility, certainty and stability are vital for companies to make long-term investment decisions on sourcing renewable energy or purchasing electric vehicles for their fleets.

European regions also need this long-term common trajectory. To do their part in reaching net-zero carbon emissions in just thirty years, they require guidance from EU Member States to deliver on issues where their powers are limited and where systemic multi-level governance is instrumental, such as on energy infrastructure and climate finance.

A world of under 2°C of global warming and greater prosperity for all is possible and desirable. But to achieve this, we need the European Union to act on the signals being sent by its businesses and regional governments and deliver a high ambition target for Europe.

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