Wednesday 28 November 2018

4 takeaways from the European Commission's 2050 vision for a climate-neutral Europe

The EU executive has outlined today its bold vision for making Europe climate-neutral by 2050. The Commission’s landmark strategy aims to make the EU compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and catalyze a profound societal and economic transformation.

“A Clean Planet for all: A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy”: this is how the Commission is unveiling its proposal for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. The strategy arrives right before the start of the key COP 24 climate conference in Katowice. But it also comes at a critical time: EU climate and energy action is currently stagnating and the scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have recently called for a faster, more ambitious action.

What’s in it for cities? Energy Cities identified 4 takeaways from the proposal

1- A positive narrative for action

While the Commission’s strategy is very clear on the dangerous and expensive risks of inaction on climate change, it champions overall a positive narrative for Europe to commit to climate neutrality by 2050. It is also a narrative of transformation. According to the Commission, “the Status quo is not an option”. Climate neutrality would mean that the EU achieves net-zero GHG emissions, i.e. a balance between emissions and removals (e.g. through carbon sinks such as forests, soils, wetlands, etc.) of Greenhouse Gases.

The strategy extensively underlines the opportunities for swift and ambitious energy and climate action, which would bring broad social, economic and health benefits to Europeans. According to the Commission, the EU’s economy is expected to double by 2050 as it decarbonizes. There would also be economic benefits, in the form of up to 2% of GDP growth. Not only could the EU save 2-3 trillion euros’ worth of fossil fuel imports, but thanks to further investment into ‘green jobs’, “new, local, high quality employment opportunities” could also be created and significant health costs would be avoided due to reduced air pollution.

2- Renewables and efficiency driving Europe’s energy transition, but nuclear’s role is still big

The energy sector plays a central role in making Europe climate-neutral. Maximizing the deployment of renewables and the use of electricity is deemed critical by the Commission to fully decarbonise Europe’s energy system. By 2050, more than 80% of electricity would be coming from renewable energy sources. Furthermore, a large majority of homes would be using renewable heating.

It is disappointing to see that the Commission still considers nuclear power as “one of the backbones of a carbon-free European power system” in 2050. It is a lost opportunity to suggest a bolder 100% renewables target for Europe. Furthermore, while pushing strongly for electrification and solutions such as hydrogen, the key (local) heating and cooling sector is neglected. The Commission also forgets the potential of existing technologies such as heat pumps, geothermal energy, etc. to decarbonise Europe’s energy sector.

Alongside the push for more renewables, the EU executive foresees that Europe’s energy consumption would be reduced by about half compared to 2005.

3- 7 Building blocks on the climate neutrality pathway

In the strategy, the Commission lays out eight different scenarios for Europe’s 2050 climate and energy future, ranging from just 80% GHG emissions reduction to climate neutrality. It is clear however, that the eighth scenario is its preferred option. This scenario relies on renewables and efficiency, but also on circular economy, natural carbon sinks, behavioral and lifestyle changes and negative emission technologies, such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

According to the EU executive, there are 7 building blocks on the climate neutrality pathway:

  • Maximise the benefits from Energy Efficiency, including zero emission buildings
  • Maximise the deployment of renewables and the use of electricity to fully decarbonise Europe’s energy supply
  • Embrace clean, safe and connected mobility
  • A competitive EU industry and the circular economy as a key enabler to reduce GHG emissions
  • Develop an adequate smart network infrastructure and inter-connections
  • Reap the full benefits of bio-economy and create essential carbon sinks
  • Tackle remaining CO2 emissions with carbon capture and storage

We wonder though, why CCS technology would be still needed in 2050. It seems like the Commission is implying that Europe in 2050 would still have fossil fuel installations up and running, whose emissions would need to be curbed with unproven and expensive technology.

4- A key role for citizens and local authorities

It is encouraging to see that throughout the strategy, the Commission acknowledges a strong role for citizens in Europe’s climate-neutral transformation. And we are not talking about imposing to eat less meat or fly less. Instead, it emphasizes the active role citizens can play as prosumers or in local energy communities. Also, it states that “new financial instruments, addressing both large and small-scale investments (such as energy communities), will also help the energy transition”.

Local action is seen as a key pillar in a European enabling framework for the long-term transformation. Cities have a critical role to drive building renovation and sustainable mobility through e.g. better spatial and urban planning. The strategy also calls for an improved coordination with national, regional and local governments in order to allow for a well-managed, socially fair and just transition that leaves no one behind.

The increasing number of cities laying out their 2050 vision through local energy and climate roadmaps, as exemplified in Energy Cities’ recent publication, is welcomed by the Commission as a development that will enrich the European debate and contribute to “defining Europe’s answer to the global challenge of climate change”.

Next steps

All EU institutions, Member States, cities, regions, businesses and NGOs are now invited to discuss the “necessary deep economic transformation and the profound societal change in an open and inclusive manner” in the first half of 2019. EU Heads of States will have to approve the strategy in May 2019, in order for it to be submitted by 2020 under the Paris Agreement.

Energy Cities and its members are ready to contribute to this discussion. The transformation of local economies, societies and energy systems starts now!

Read more

The Commission’s strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 – communication
The Commission’s strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 – accompanying technical analysis
Further documents

by David Donnerer on 28 November 2018 / 1782 visits

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