Today the European Commission adopted a long-term strategy for achieving a prosperous, modern and climate-neutral economy by 2050, called “A Clean Planet for All.” Given the European Union’s role in the global economy and its emissions size—it’s the world’s third-largest emitter, responsible for 10 percent of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions—this is arguably one of the most important long-term climate strategies released thus far.
The EU is one of only seven G20 members to release a mid-century strategy, joining the UK, Canada, France, Mexico, Germany and the United States (under the Obama administration).
Here are four reasons why the EU’s plan is so significant:
1. The plan sets a more ambitious long-term target that aligns with the Paris Agreement’s goals.
The EU’s strategy sets a new target for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. This target is a significant step up from the region’s target set in 2009, which called for an 80-95 percent reduction in emissions by the middle of the century.
More importantly, it’s aligned with the latest science. The Paris Agreement also sets an international goal to reach net-zero emissions in the second half of the century, a target underscored by scientific reports showing that a rapid reduction of emissions is necessary for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. The EU’s new target will help set benchmarks for where the world needs to head by 2050.
2. Health benefits alone could outweigh the costs of climate action.
Meeting the EU’s target will require significant additional investment, particularly for energy and related infrastructure—around $85 billion to $330 billion annually above current spending. However, there are tremendous health benefits that come along with taking ambitious climate action. The strategy estimates that achieving net-zero GHG emissions on top of the EU’s existing air pollution measures will reduce premature deaths caused by air pollution by more than 40 percent. That alone is worth $230 billion per year. This echoes the findings of several recent studies that show how curbing climate change is key for preventing air pollution-related deaths—with benefits that often far outweigh the costs of reducing emissions. Benefits beyond air pollution will likely tip the scales to outweigh even the highest estimates of additional costs.
3. Massive transformations are required. They’ll be challenging, but feasible.
The EU’s strategy highlights the scale and pace of transformation required across all sectors of the economy. The energy sector will play a crucial role in this transition, as it currently accounts for more than 75 percent of the EU’s GHG emissions. It will require the large-scale electrification of the EU’s energy system driven by the deployment of renewables, with tremendous improvement in efficiencies. And transformations aren’t limited to the energy sector alone – achieving the EU’s target will require behavior changes from consumers (for example, reducing long-distance travel) and a highly circular economy, along with bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage to balance remaining emissions.
4. A long-term strategy can drive near-term action.
The real value of any long-term plan is the extent to which it can drive near-term action, helping to avoid poor decisions that are costly, unsustainable, and create stranded assets and carbon lock-in, while providing long-term signals to guide investors. The EU’s new long-term strategy now sets the direction of travel for countries’ short- and medium-term climate and energy plans.
While the long-term strategy does not suggest an updated near-term climate target (the current EU target aims to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030), it does state that the region is on track to exceed its 2030 target by 5 percentage points when its climate legislation is fully implemented. However, it’s important to note that the UNEP emissions gap report released yesterday suggests that the EU is currently off track in meeting its 2030 target. Increasing the ambition of the EU’s near-term target would certainly make realization of the long-term target easier and less costly.
Ramping Up Ambition
The EU’s strategy is clear that the policies in place today are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement's temperature goals of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C-2°C (2.7°F-3.6°F). More ambitious efforts are urgently needed, as well as international cooperation. Like the Paris Agreement itself, long-term planning must be universal so that all countries are able to put in place pathways to achieve the transformation needed.
The EU’s strategy now provides a guidepost for the region to step up and reap the economic and health benefits associated with climate action. In the first half of 2019, the European Commission will meet with Member States to discuss the transformations required to meet these long-term goals. This process should allow the EU to adopt and submit an official long-term strategy by early 2020 to the UN, as requested under the Paris Agreement.