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EU climate chiefs back radical new 90 percent emissions target

EU climate chiefs back radical new 90 percent emissions target

by host

Something quietly enormous occurred this week: The EU took a major step toward pledging to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2040, within a whisker of net zero before a child born today will finish school.

The context was not promising. A fractious double hearing in the European Parliament where a former Shell oil company employee and a Slovakian with limited climate credentials were pitching for the two top jobs in global warming at the European Commission. 

But Dutchman Wopke Hoekstra and Slovak Maroš Šefčovič both pledged to “defend” a cut of “at least” 90 percent. They were then confirmed in their posts with the parliamentary committee’s approval.

That sets a high bar for a legislative debate on the 2040 goal that is likely to preoccupy the EU next year. 

“The EU has and must continue to lead by example,” the pair said in a coordinated set of replies to the lawmakers.

MEPs from the Greens in particular held up their approval until they had personal commitments on the goal from both men.

The target comes from an uncosted recommendation in June by the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, which said it was both feasible and fair for the EU to reduce its emissions 90-95 percent below 1990 levels by 2040, en route to its goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Setting the 2040 target would lay down a benchmark for the EU’s peers in the developed world. 

The U.K. wants to reach a 78 percent cut by 2035. But few other countries have set firm stepping stones between 2030 and their ultimate net-zero goal for the middle of the century.

Meeting the 90 percent mark would mean reaching net zero, or close to it, in many economic sectors in less than 17 years, according to the advisory panel’s assessment.

By 2040, Europe’s power generation would have to generate nearly net-zero emissions. That means no coal from 2030, and almost no gas-fired power without carbon capture equipment installed by 2040. Renewables would produce 70 to 90 percent of electricity. The bloc’s oil imports would decrease between 50 and 100 percent by 2040.

Europeans would have to eat less meat. As a result, the demand for livestock would drop between 47-58 percent by 2040 in some scenarios analyzed by the advisory board. Hoekstra and Šefčovič told MEPs that the Commission was “exploring how lifestyle changes including dietary changes” could support emissions cuts. 

There is a long way to go before the target becomes the law.

The Commission will first publish an impact assessment on various emissions scenarios.

Despite Hoekstra and Šefčovič’s personal commitments, there is no guarantee the Commission will ultimately endorse the 90 percent cut.

The advisory board cited Europe’s position as a major historical emitter as the basis for its assessment that the EU should aim for the upper end of what was technically feasible. But it made no analysis of whether 90 percent would be the most cost-effective interim point on the way to net zero.

The Commission’s internal advisers will assess those costs.

Then the full set of commissioners — and their boss Ursula von der Leyen — will need to sign off and release their recommendations. This is all supposed to happen by spring.

Whatever the Commission proposes will be negotiated between the Parliament and EU governments. 

Before that can happen, EU elections will be held, almost certainly shifting the complexion of those talks and possibly ending the commissionerships of Hoekstra and Šefčovič.

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