EU urgently needs to reverse its climate neutrality failure

Immediate action is necessary to ensure the EU can become carbon-neutral by 2050 and thus limit global warming. The rapid rise in support of this target in the last month suggests it is attainable, but the momentum must not be lost.

By: Date: June 28, 2019 Topic: Energy & Climate

European leaders failed this month to adopt a target to make the bloc climate-neutral by 2050, due to opposition from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland.

The target, which implied that by 2050 Europe would have to absorb as much greenhouse gas as it emits, has gathered momentum over the last month. Since May, the number of countries backing the target has risen from eight to 24. By European standards, this represents a surprisingly quick political development. It also suggests that remaining resistance can be overturned, and that the 2050 target can eventually be adopted.

European leaders should increase pressure on the four opposing countries and agree the 2050 deal before the UN climate conference in New York in September, where discussions will focus on how to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Europe needs to arrive in New York with the 2050 climate neutrality target secured, not only to stay at the forefront of global climate action but also to push China and other major polluters to follow the same path.

This is vital, as the aim of arriving at carbon neutrality by 2050 is the single correct destination point on the climate policy map. Scientists have indeed shown that achieving climate neutrality within that time frame is the only sensible way to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and therefore to protect the world from the more dramatic impacts of climate change.

This would represent only a starting point for Europe, though. The continent has not yet managed to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions convincingly. After years of decline, emissions have actually picked up again in 2017. This is not surprising, as fossil fuels continue to dominate Europe’s electricity, transport, industrial and residential sectors.

Just look at the electricity sector. In the last decade, Europe has strongly supported renewable energy, which now covers around 30% of consumption. But while European electricity has become greener, it has also maintained its oldest and most polluting component: coal.

The dirtiest fossil fuel still represents 20% of Europe’s electricity mix, with astonishing national peaks such as 80% in Poland, 50% in the Czech Republic, 46% in Bulgaria, 37% in Germany, and 34% in Greece.

Only Finland and Sweden have so far taken a final decision on a coal phase-out. In other cases, countries have just made announcements, generally within a 2030 horizon. In Germany, a 2038 coal phase-out is now under discussion. Not even this, though, has ever been mentioned in central and eastern European countries featuring the highest utilisation of coal.

Possibly even worse, however, is the situation of the European transport sector. CO2 emissions have continued to rise over the last few decades with little policy intervention by European leaders to reverse this trend.

EU leaders should not only adopt the 2050 climate neutrality target before the September UN climate conference, but also demonstrate their genuine commitment to consistently pursue it.

There are no excuses: deep decarbonisation is becoming technically and economically viable, as most of the technologies needed for this transformation are now available, at ever lower costs. What is needed is a clear policy framework capable of promoting this transformation in an intelligent way, i.e. by seizing the economic and industrial opportunities it offers, and by ensuring its social inclusiveness.

This has to be done right now. Policy choices made from now until 2024 will indeed define the shape of the European energy system by 2050. Europe, thus, needs not only to agree on where it wants to go, but also to make sure it consistently follows this path.

Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to communication@bruegel.org.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author


The EU needs a bold climate strategy

Scientists report that global temperature increases must be limited to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. With global greenhouse gas emissions continuing to increase and rising temperatures driving up the frequency of extreme weather events, the world needs a greater commitment to climate policy.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 19, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author


Von der Leyen’s Green Deal isn’t just a plan for the environment

Ursula von der Leyen's proposal of a European Green Deal is ambitious and urgent. Not only does it aim to reduce the continent's emissions, but it also has the potential to grow the EU's economy and transform the bloc's politics.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 18, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author



Deep Focus: Energy transition in the next EU institutional cycle

Bruegel fellow Simone Tagliapietra speaks to Sean Gibson in this instalment of 'The Sound of Economics', on the matter of the European energy transition and how the EU should proceed in the new institutional cycle.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 10, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Brief

The European Union energy transition: key priorities for the next five years

The new members of the European Parliament and European Commission who start their mandates in 2019 should put in place major policy elements to unleash the energy transition. It is becoming economically and technically feasible, with most of the necessary technologies now available and technology costs declining. The cost of the transition would be similar to that of maintaining the existing system, if appropriate policies and regulations are put in place.

By: Simone Tagliapietra, Georg Zachmann, Ottmar Edenhofer, Jean-Michel Glachant, Pedro Linares and Andreas Loeschel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 9, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author


Faut-il s’endetter pour le climat?

Jean Pisani-Ferry, soutient qu’il ne faut pas s’interdire de financer une partie du coût de la transition écologique par l’endettement.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 2, 2019
Read about event

Upcoming Event


Climate change and the role of central banks

What connections exist between central banks and climate change, and what are the resulting implications?

Speakers: Emanuele Campiglio, Paul Hiebert, Pierre Monnin, Kjell G. Nyborg, Luiz Awazu Pereira da Silva, Mario Quagliariello, Mattia Romani, Paweł Samecki and Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Narodowy Bank Polski, Świętokrzyska 11/21, 00-919 Warsaw
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Brief

A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership

Memo to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament. 'A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership' by Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram Wolff is the first of our 2019 Bruegel memos to the new presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament. Focusing on the most important economic questions at EU level, these Bruegel memos are intended to be a strategic to-do list, outlining the state of affairs that will greet the new Commission.

By: Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 13, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author



Director’s Cut: A strategic agenda for the incoming EU presidents

In this Director’s Cut of ‘The Sound of Economics’, Bruegel’s Guntram Wolff and Maria Demertzis talk through their memo to the new presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, outlining the specific measures that should be implemented in order to tackle the most formidable challenges arising in the next five years.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 12, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author



Backstage: Making the most of climate modelling

Bruegel senior fellow Georg Zachmann interviews Massimo Tavoni, professor at the Politecnico di Milano and director of EIEE, on the purpose of climate and energy models, what they can deliver and what are the most recent developments in their formulation.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: June 6, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

How do national energy policies fit into EU decarbonisation plans?

Through considering several different national perspectives, we discuss how to reconcile the EU Climate Strategy targets with national energy and climate policies.

Speakers: Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk, Christian von Hirschhausen, Carole Mathieu and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: May 15, 2019
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

Is an electric car a cleaner car?

An article published by the Ifo Institute in Germany compares the carbon footprint of a battery-electric car to that of a diesel car, and argues a higher share of electric cars will not contribute to reducing German carbon dioxide emissions. Respondents rejected the authors’ calculations as unrealistic and biased, and pointed to a series of studies that conclude the opposite. We summarise the article and responses to it.

By: Michael Baltensperger Topic: Energy & Climate, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: May 13, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Elections must put Europe on a path to a green future

We are at a pivotal moment for the future of Europe. It is an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental values and visions underlying the European project, and on the future direction of this common journey. Climate change should be at the centre of this reflection.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: May 8, 2019
Load more posts