High Hopes: EU Aims to Be Climate Neutral by 2050!

The European Commission has announced it wants the EU economy to be climate neutral by 2050, which would make it the first major group economy in the world to achieve this feat.

That means that after 2050, the EU would need to eliminate or offset nearly all greenhouse gas emissions. This offsetting might take the form of planting trees or using carbon storage, for example by safely burying the gases underground.

“We cannot safely live on a planet with the climate that is out of control,” The Vice-President responsible for the Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič said in a press release, “But that does not mean that to reduce emissions, we should sacrifice the livelihoods of Europeans. Over the last years, we have shown how to reduce emissions, while creating prosperity, high-quality local jobs, and improving people’s quality of life. Europe will inevitably continue to transform. Our strategy now shows that by 2050, it is realistic to make Europe both climate neutral and prosperous, while leaving no European and no region behind.”

The plan, which falls in line with one of the key components of the Paris Climate Agreement, is interesting in that the EU is setting this as a vision for the future. It is not, however, proscribing new targets or setting new regulations. The work on that is already in place in other standards and will continue to be developed at the European Union and member state level. Instead, the EU is setting a direction it says it is committed to going in and a destination it believes will be the inevitable consequence of this vision: a prosperous, climate-neutral economy.

A Long Way to Go

To get there, the EU will have to work hard, but there is evidence that, at least in terms of policy, the framework is already in place to take the EU at least part of the way there.

For example, the BBC notes that emissions in the EU have dropped by over a fifth since 1990, despite the EU growing its economy as many member states have flourished.

However, there are some major red flags, too. The EU’s emission reduction targets for 2030 (a key milestone) vary by state, from around 0 percent to 40 percent of 2005′s levels. Working on an average, the EU as a block would have to reduce its emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005′s levels in order to stay on track.

Those targets were agreed upon earlier this year and stem from the Paris Agreement’s resolutions as well as the EU’s own deliberation on climate policy. But report after report has found that many of the world’s powers, including the EU, are failing to curb emissions. If we fail by 2030, the gap between where we are and where we need to be would remain or be even wider as we work to try to mitigate climate change problems in other areas.

How the EU Plans to Achieve a Climate Neutral Economy

With this announcement, the EU highlights a number of key scenarios it believes will allow it to correct course and reach its climate neutral goal by 2050.

The EU has invested substantially in renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, and as it stands the EU is on track to meet its 2020 goal of having 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Perhaps even more instructive of the rate of change is that until 2016, the use of renewable electricity in the transport sector had tripled in just 10 years, with that showing no sign of stalling.

This positive momentum will be crucial if the EU is to achieve climate neutrality. Electricity from renewables will need to hit the 80 percent mark to reach those targets. That’s a big gulf to bridge, and it will not be easy, but the EU has shown deliberate signs of, for example, unpicking the hold that the automobile industry has on driving fossil fuels. Taking that as an example, policy to reduce and eliminate diesel fuels will necessitate a switch to electric cars. If the automobile industry is made to fall in line, this will drive innovation and investment and thereby create opportunities for tackling emissions in other sectors — at least, that is what the EU seems to be hoping.

Another key area for change will be in creating so-called circular economies. This is one where we find ways to re-purpose the byproducts and waste products from our daily living. Hydroelectricity, for example, has proved to oftentimes be more wasteful than we had envisaged, but there are innovations in the works that can help to close down the waste problem and create an energy generating loop that, while not completely circular, is much more environmentally friendly than it is today. The EU is looking to other areas of the generation and production sectors where such system reshaping can yield significant results.

Competitive industry could actually be a driver of achieving this goal of climate neutrality, and this is where the real power of the EU’s intention setting seems to lie. This is, in effect, a notice to industry within the EU that the playing field has now changed and that the government will reward industry for driving the economy toward this goal. That might not sound all that impressive, but we have seen how intention-setting at the highest level can drive national and local actors toward change, for example how the Paris Climate Agreement coincided with mayors of major cities taking the lead in reducing carbon emissions.

The EU is proposing a difficult and ambitious road ahead to meet its climate neutral economy goal, but this is precisely the kind of bold action we need to save ourselves from a climate disaster in the future.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

34 comments

Henry M
Henry M6 days ago

At least they are trying, which is more than the US can say.

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Michael F

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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David C
David C7 days ago

thanks, would be awesome!!!! earlier would be even better!!! thanks

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson7 days ago

Thank you.

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

. Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

Heres hoping . Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

. Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

Interesting . Thank you for caring and sharing

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Alea C
Alea C7 days ago

That's 31 years, and since we were only given 12 to reverse climate change before it's too late to do so, it won't make any difference, as we will have passed the point of no return.

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Loredana V
Loredana V7 days ago

There would be nothing to save in 2050.

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