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What's EUp in December 2018?

By David Donnerer on 20 December 2018

2050 is now…

…even if it is still more than three decades away. In recent years, more and more European cities have created 2050 local climate and energy roadmaps, in close collaboration with all stakeholders on their territories. Our recent publication, highlighting examples from Grenoble (France), San Sebastián (Spain), Salzburg (Austria), Manchester (UK) and Münster (Germany), illustrates this development and shows how European local and regional authorities are forward-thinking when it comes to tackling climate change and catalysing the local energy transition.

Now, the European Union has followed suit. “A Clean Planet for all: A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy”: this is how the EU Commission has unveiled its proposal for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 at the end of November. The timing for the publication was critical: EU climate and energy action is currently stagnating and the scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have recently called for faster, more ambitious action, in order to limit the effects of climate change on our territories.

In this special edition, we identify the four main takeaways for cities from the EU Commission’s 2050 vision for a climate-neutral Europe. Furthermore, we analyze a critical new study from the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), the Commission’s think tank: “10 trends reshaping climate and energy”. What are these trends that are currently transforming our societies, economies and energy systems, and how will these determine whether Europe can achieve climate neutrality in the mid-century? You can read our analysis of the EPSC trends study here.

Four takeaways from the European Commission’s 2050 vision for a climate-neutral Europe

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, with a large majority of homes 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- Seven 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 seven 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.

To influence the process: 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.

We hope that many of you will contribute to the discussion - the transformation of local economies, societies and energy systems starts now!

Locally yours,

with the support of ADEME

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