Is the EU on track towards the 2°C decarbonisation objective?

[Press Release - 08.11.2016]

Is the EU on track towards the 2°C decarbonisation objective?
And how to get back on track…

Brussels, November 8, 2016 – The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) releases today a report assessing the EU’s progress towards its 2030 and 2050 climate objectives. This work has been conducted in cooperation with 7 other research institutions from 6 Member States: E3MLab/ICCS (Greece), ENEA (Italy), UCL (United Kingdom), ENERDATA (France), Grenoble Applied Economics Lab (France), Wise-Europa (Poland), Wuppertal Institute (Germany).

Key findings

The EU has made significant progress in the structural decarbonisation of its energy system. This is particularly evident in the power sector, where the carbon intensity of power production has dropped by 20.9% between 2000 and 2014.

Despite this progress, the EU is currently "off-track" to achieve its objectives by 2030 and 2050. The rate of change is insufficient across a large number of the indicators assessed. Too much of the change in aggregate emissions has been driven by cyclical effects rather than structural decarbonisation, notably the impact of the financial crisis and subsequent slow recovery. Long-term decarbonisation options, for example to decarbonise industrial processes and materials, are not being adequately prepared. Even in the electricity sector, where the growth of renewables has been impressive, the improvement of carbon intensity needs to accelerate from about 1.8% per year to around 3% per year in the coming decade. In transport, the EU is lagging behind what is needed, with the energy intensity of passenger transport improving only about 0.8% per year, compared to the roughly 1.8% per year improvement required in the coming decade to reach the EU’s 2030 and 2050 targets.

According to Teresa Ribera, Director of IDDRI, "Europe has made significant progress, but new sectoral policies are needed to ensure it can reach its long-term targets, especially in transport and industry".

Policy implications

The EU and Member States should significantly revise their approach to decarbonisation by refocusing on the key drivers of emissions in each sector. The EU needs a suite of new breakthrough policies on clean mobility. For instance, alongside an ambitious emissions performance target of at least 70 grams CO2 per kilometre by 2025, the EU should establish a framework for public and commercial fleet procurement to be 100% electric by 2025.

Likewise, targets, financing and monitoring of energy efficiency retrofitting and fuel switching in buildings should be strengthened. "By themselves, cross-sectoral emissions targets do not give sufficient impetus to the structural decarbonisation of the EU energy system", explains Thomas Spencer, Climate Programme Director at IDDRI and co-author of the report.

Current proposals to implement the 2030 package should be adopted in the strongest possible form to put the EU back on track. This is especially true of the EU’s energy efficiency objectives. If adopted in its current form—i.e. 27% to 30% energy savings by 2030—the target would represent a slowdown in the pace of energy productivity improvements for the EU. The EU ETS needs to be strengthened to avoid the risk of low and ineffective carbon prices persisting well in the late 2020s.

The EU needs a shake-up of current policies for decarbonising energy intensive and trade-exposed industries such as steel. This must also include a renewed focus on market "pull" measures to create a market for low-carbon materials and processes in industry.

The EU should consider policies to phase down coal in electricity, given the lack of an effective signal for coal retirement from the EU ETS. By 2030, unabated coal needs to drop by more than 50% to make way for low-carbon electricity sources.

An innovative methodology

”The project’s deep dive into the energy system transformations taking place in every sector and every Member State allowed one of the most comprehensive, robust and revealing assessment of the EU’s 'climate performance' in the energy sector to date" according to Roberta Pierfederici, Research Fellow at IDDRI and co-author of the report.

The project analysed tens of thousands of data points to identify what structural changes are required for a 2°C-compatible energy system pathway in Europe. It then compared this to current trends on the underlying drivers of emissions in every sector and every Member State.

>> Read the report « State of the Low-Carbon Energy Union: Assessing the EU’s progress towards its 2030 and 2050 climate objectives »