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Climate change mitigation goals for Europe
[♥Note: this essay was written when Donald Trump was still the POTUS. Now that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the new United States President and Vice President; and Democrats are in charge of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the United States will rejoin the international community focused on climate action. First and foremost, this means rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. The United States government is also poised to invest substantiallyin clean energy infrastructure, clean energy job development, environmental protections, and in many other significant sustainable climate, energy, environmental, and economic/job growth US sectors.]
Will the EU meet its clean energy goals?
The global scientific consensus is that the world's countries' greenhouse gas reduction targets and climate change mitigation goals made at the UNFCCC Paris Climate Accord must be increased. The progress in implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies on a global scale must be increased by between three and five times all current levels in order to avoid catastrophic climate change this century. [See below towards the end of this article for narratives, and links to articles, about the United Nations Emissions Gap Report].
The EU has had specific, mandated and aspirational, climate change mitigation goals since 2008, when the EU set a target of 20% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) - in the EU 20-20-20 2020 Climate & Energy Package. After the Paris Climate Accord, the EU set a much more ambitious goal- 40% GHG reduction by 2030; and subsequently revised even this ambitious goal to greater targets in the European Green Deal. However as of 2019, European nations’ progress on climate goals, and most world countries' GHG reduction targets and progress, are all characterized as “insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker.
The EU passed the European Green Deal on December 11, 2019, in Brussels. The European Green Deal is a set of very ambitious climate goals and other policy guidelines for the EU to achieve carbon neutrality. Many of the EU policy strategies discussed later in this article are reiterated, and made more ambitious, in the European Green Deal. The Green Deal has a new GHG reduction goal of at least 50% GHG reduction by 2030, replacing the 40% GHG reduction goal, and includes the following goals:
"The agenda targets every sector of the economy — agriculture, transportation, industry, ecology — and allocates funding to the people who may lose their jobs or see their communities reshaped by the move toward cleaner energy.
The proposal calls for establishing the EU’s first-ever climate law, one that would anchor the 2050 climate neutrality target and make the progress toward it irreversible in law, should another commission change its mind. And in addition to creating national climate and energy plans for each EU member state, the Green Deal calls for strategies to decarbonize sectors like industry and agriculture, as well as strategies to protect biodiversity."
A summary of the new EU climate goals-
European Green Deal
Climate action is at the heart of the European Green Deal – an ambitious package of measures ranging from ambitiously cutting greenhouse gas emissions, to investing in cutting-edge research and innovation, to preserving Europe’s natural environment.
First climate action initiatives under the Green Deal include:
- European Climate Law to enshrine the 2050 climate-neutrality objective into EU law
- European Climate Pact to engage citizens and all parts of society in climate action
"The world is further off course than ever from meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement and averting climate catastrophe as the divide between countries’ pledges and actions continues to grow.
This grim assessment comes from the latest United Nations Emissions Gap Report published Tuesday. “Gap” refers to the difference between what countries have committed to do to limit climate change and what they actually need to do to meet greenhouse gas targets.
The findings aren’t surprising, given that global greenhouse gas emissions have reached all-time highs in recent years. But they are still alarming. Since the first gap report was published in 2010, carbon dioxide emissions have risen 11 percent."
Broadly speaking, countries in Northern Europe and Germany are doing the best globally as far as reaching ambitious GHG reduction goals, and taking ambitious climate change mitigation action to meet those goals. For example, cities in Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, are employing very ambitious climate change mitigation initiatives. Cities like Vaxjo, Sweden, are on a path to become carbon-neutral; the same is true for Copenhagen, Denmark, and cities in Germany like Freiburg. Countries in Western Europe are doing slightly less well than Northern Europe as far as setting ambitious GHG reduction targets, and taking progressive climate action, but are generally doing better than countries in Southern Europe. All of Europe, as a whole, is leading the world in climate action, but it is still not enough.
EU’s evolution of climate targets
EU member countries have collectively adopted ambitious sets of climate mitigation and GHG reduction targets and policies over the last couple of decades, culminating in the European Green Deal - the EU ETS (launched in 2005), the European Commission's Energy Efficiency Plan, and the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package The Package is a set of legislative mandates, aspirational GHG reduction targets, and renewable energy and energy efficiency goals; first adopted by the EU in 2008 (then simply called "the EU Climate Package"), recently updated in 2018, and again revised and put into the European Green Deal. Here is a summary of the sets of EU climate change mitigation policies, the 2018 update to the EU Climate Package; more ambitious mitigation targets in light of new scientific data on the evolving scientific understanding of global warming, and what measures are currently needed to fight climate change-
- The EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) is the EU's key tool for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from large-scale facilities in the power and industry sectors
- Current EU measures for increasing energy efficiency are set out in the European Commission's comprehensive Energy Efficiency Plan -
- The mandated set of EU climate change mitigation targets, in terms of GHG reduction, renewable energy, and energy efficiency goals, evolved into a more ambitious set of policies- namely, the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package - new 2018 package - and then many of these ambitious climate policy goals were put into the European Green Deal.
“Based on European Commission proposals [published, and since updated] in November 2016, the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package consists of eight legislative acts. After political agreement by the Council and the European Parliament in 2018 (and early 2019), enabling all of the new rules to be in force by mid-2019, EU countries have [settled on goals as described below].
The changes will bring considerable benefits from a consumer perspective, from an environmental perspective, and from an economic perspective. It also underlines EU leadership in tackling global warming and provides an important contribution to the EU’s long-term strategy of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
With a view to showing global leadership on renewables, the EU has set an ambitious, binding target of 32% for renewable energy sources in the EU’s energy mix by 2030." FROM - ec.europa.eu/energy-strategy-and-energy-union/clean-energy-all-europeans
The EU has set binding targets of at least 32.5% energy efficiency gains by 2030, relative to a ‘business as usual’ scenario; as per the European Commission's amending directive on energy efficiency that has been in place since December 2018. The main part of this, the EU's energy performance in buildings directive outlines specific measures for the building sector.
Other EU-wide climate change mitigation policies, mandates, and initiatives (in addition to GHG reduction, renewable energy, and energy efficiency targets), can be viewed in the various links here.
As far as non-EU member European countries, Norway and Iceland are positive examples of countries prioritizing and successfully implementing climate focused initiatives, and both countries do fully participate in the EU ETS. Reykjavik, Iceland runs mostly on hydroelectricity and geothermal energy, leading the world in renewable energy generation and use. Norway and Iceland both have a GHG reduction target of 40% by 2030, like that of the EU; and Norway has an even more ambitious goal- 90% GHG reduction by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Oslo, Norway is a world leader in electric cars on the road; and has a congestion charge (similar to London) which incentivizes the use of fuel-efficient, low and zero emission vehicles. Oslo is even considering a complete ban on fossil fuel-based vehicles.
Climate goals of the United States
On the other hand, there are no federal U.S. GHG reduction goals, and the U.S. has no federal climate mitigation policies. Carbon Action Tracker now categorizes the country’s efforts as 'critically insufficient', their lowest ranking.
On a brighter note, some individual states in the U.S. are trying to live up to the climate goals and policies set forth in Paris; and even represent progressive climate goals on par with those of the most ambitious nations in Northern Europe. For example, California has a statewide goal of 100% renewable energy for the state’s electricity needs by 2045, and has mandated all new buildings statewide be zero net energy. [Specifically, “all new residential construction will be zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020. All new commercial construction will be ZNE by 2030. 50% of commercial buildings will be retrofit to ZNE by 2030. 50% of new major renovations of state buildings will be ZNE by 2025.” - quote from - cpuc.ca.gov/ZNE
These quotes from The Economist summarize the climate change mitigation efforts of a few more progressive states in the U.S. as far as climate policies-
"A long line of states, including Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, [as well as Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine], have already enacted clean-energy laws this year. More and more states are following California, which began instituting stringent environmental rules decades ago. Rigorous efficiency standards for appliances, businesses and vehicles have brought the Golden State’s emissions down. From 2000 to , California’s emissions fell by [over 9%] even as its economy and population grew.” - quote from - economist.com/united-states/can-american-states-slow-global-warming-on-their-own
California, and several states in New England, have already enacted cap-and-trade programs for carbon pricing. The group of nine New England states with cap-and-trade are known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) coalition of states, as the east coast version of California's cap-and-trade program. Prior to California in 2006, the EU had developed carbon pricing in 2005, and even earlier on a developmental test basis in the UK and Denmark– the EU ETS. Most other non-EU European countries now also have a carbon tax or ETS of their own, as seen in this map of the current state of carbon pricing programs around the globe-
The reality of current climate policies and progress UN member countries made in Paris vs. what is actually needed
This article from The Guardian sums up the reality of what the UN states as necessary climate change mitigation policies and technologies worldwide- "Countries must make an unprecedented effort to cut their levels of greenhouse gases in the next decade to avoid climate chaos, the UN has warned...Global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5°C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences." - quote from - theguardian.com/united-nations-global-effort-cut-emissions-stop-climate-chaos-2030
Although the Paris Climate Accord sets the limit on global warming to 2°C in order for the world to avoid severe impacts from catastrophic climate change; and have set a more ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C this century, even the EU is off that mark considerably. The EU, California, and non-EU European countries, are significantly ahead of much of the rest of the world, but it still isn't enough to sufficiently correct the current rate of global warming (as illustrated in the more "optimistic policies" scenario in the CAT graph below). Current pledges for GHG reduction and progress in climate change mitigation made by countries in the Paris Climate Accord would result in a global temperature rise of at least 3°C, which is definitively better than the “business as usual” scenario of an over 4°C global temperature rise, but does not hit targets set in Paris.
For both Europe and the US, Green City Times recommends focusing effort on ambitious climate change mitigation goals with a few public policy ideas, starting with national carbon pricing programs as a top priority>>> greencitytimes.com/stabilize-greenhouse-gas-emissions
This graph from Climate Action Tracker (CAT) (below) shows the baseline (business as usual - BAU) scenario for global temperature rise this century. The BAU scenario shows the result if countries continue energy policies without adopting ambitious, or even just reasonable, climate change mitigation measures; and minimal GHG reduction is accomplished due to minimal climate change mitigation policies and efforts. The CAT graph below also shows the range of more optimistic scenarios; from current climate mitigation policies (globally, among the world's countries), the scenario the would result from Paris Climate Accord pledges (realistically 2°C - 2.9°C), and scenarios resulting from more ambitious global climate policies, climate change mitigation efforts, and clean energy technologies that would hold warming to 1.5°C.
The following articles summarize the problem, the gap between GHG reduction pledges and efforts; and present solutions backed by scientific evidence-
- “12 years to save the planet” began drawing attention in 2018, when the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing what it would take to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C, a goal of the Paris climate agreement. The report explained that countries would have to cut their anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, such as from power plants and vehicles, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping "well before 2030" and be on a path to fall by about 45% by around 2030 (12 years away at that time).
- An assessment backed by the world’s major climate science bodies has found commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
- The current pledges made by countries under the Paris agreement would cause temperature rises of about 3.2°C this century, according to scientific estimates.
- Global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5°C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences
- Technologies such as renewable energy, [green building and other energy efficiency technologies], and electric vehicles, are now available [as well as GCT’s 10+ point plan, the EU’s energy efficiency policies in the EU Climate Package], and increasingly cheap, which could enable deep cuts in carbon without jeopardizing economic growth” [please also see: greencitytimes.com/renewable-energy-jobs-are-up-and-re-cost-is-down/]