EU Policy. Governments need to triple rate of emissions cuts

March 2020, within a hundred days of taking office, the then environment commissioner Frans Timmermans unveils the EU's net-zero proposal, now fixed in law.
March 2020, within a hundred days of taking office, the then environment commissioner Frans Timmermans unveils the EU's net-zero proposal, now fixed in law. Copyright Lukasz Kobus/ EU
Copyright Lukasz Kobus/ EU
By Robert Hodgson
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A raft of new legislation adopted under the EU's flagship Green Deal agenda means the bloc is on the right path to meet its climate and environment policy goals, the European Commission has said, while acknowledging the real test will be how effectively governments implement it.


The EU is “on the right trajectory” to meet the raft of climate, environmental and ecological goals it has set itself in recent years, but achieving its climate action goals will require considerable additional effort, especially on buildings and transport, the European Commission has warned.

This conclusion was set out in a mid-term review of the EU’s eighth Environmental Action Programme (EAP), published today (13 March), 24 hours after the EU executive proposed urgent action to respond to a new normal of extreme weather caused by a rise in global average temperatures that is already touching the 1.5-degree limit set out in the Paris Agreement.

To meet the target of cutting net emissions to 55% below 1990 levels and staying on track for climate neutrality by mid-century, the pace of reducing CO2 output must accelerate to almost triple that seen over the last decade, the EU executive says. Emissions were down 32.5% in 2022, leaving a huge gap to close by the end of the decade.

“Relative to past mitigation efforts, the most significant cuts in emissions are needed in buildings and transport, where the pace of decarbonisation is sluggish or even moving in the opposite direction,” the commission warns in its report.

Moreover, a “significant boost” to Europe’s dwindling natural carbon sinks, notably forests, will be needed alongside concrete reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors of the economy.

Under updated rules, removals based on land use and forestry should increase some 35% to the equivalent of 310 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2030, a level not seen in almost a decade amid a steady decline attributed by the European Environment Agency to increased logging.

EU governments have until the end of June to finalise national energy and climate plans. The EU executive has already called for more hawkish policy on emissions, as first drafts suggested emissions would only be down 51% by 2030 even if all policy pledges were fully implemented.

The eighth EAP came into force in May 2022, and sets the guidelines for EU environmental policy through to 2030, in line with the Green Deal agenda of the von der Leyen Commission, whose five-year term draws to a close following European elections in June.

Despite the broadly optimistic tone of the report, the commission also acknowledges that meeting the other broad goals set in the plan – reversing biodiversity loss, fulfilling a ‘zero pollution’ ambition, creating a fully circular economy, 'mainstreaming' climate adaptation, and reducing the environmental pressure from production and consumption – require concerted efforts from governments now most of the legislation is in place.

“Most initiatives still have to be fully implemented,” the commission concludes, adding: “It is therefore too early to assess their full impact on the environment."

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