Climate targets and EU green recovery plan after COVID-19

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From Wuhan to Milan the coronavirus pandemic led to a dramatic short-term collapse of pollution and, at the same time, a deep economic shock. The possible link between the spread of coronavirus and climate conditions such as humidity, particulate matter concentration and greenhouse gas emissions level in the most affected or exposed areas is currently under investigation.

NO2 concentrations over Italy
Source: European Space Agency, 2020

According to the World Meteorological Organization [1], COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not a substitute for sustained climate action. This will make more difficult to tackle weather, climate and water-related hazards which are becoming more acute because of climate change.

Earth Day 2020 was crucial not only to demonstrate support for environmental protection but also to remember that climate change is a pending problem and a global response is needed.

Governments are facing an unprecedented health crisis, with more than 200,000 deaths and 2.8 million confirmed cases on 26 April. These numbers, that are still rising rapidly, show that the European Union (28 States, including the UK) accounts for 38% of confirmed cases (1,060,000) and 58 % of deaths (116.000).

In Europe there is an open debate on both the tools to alleviate the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on the economy and health systems, and on the drivers that will guide the recovery phase. In the latter aspect, there are many calls for a "green reconstruction", from NGOs [2a], business [2b] and governments [2c].

What is on the current EU agenda and what has been achieved for climate actions? 

The European Union aims to achieve climate neutrality in 2050 and this is at the heart of the European Green Deal (mobilising at least EUR 1 trillion of sustainable investments over the next decade) and in line with its commitments under the Paris Agreement. The climate law proposal [3] was unveiled in Brussels on 4 March and includes to amend the EU’s current 2030 target of at least -40% greenhouse gas emission reductions to at least -50% and towards -55%, compared to 1990 emission levels in a responsible way.

In addition, the European Commission wants to actively engage citizens and communities through a public consultation [4] to give everyone a voice and space to design new climate actions like the European Climate Pact.

Looking back, 2020 is also the year in which the climate objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy should be achieved:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 20% compared to 1990;

  • Share of renewable energy sources in final energy consumption to be increased to 20% ;

  • Energy efficiency to be improved by 20%.

As confirmed by the European Environment Agency [5],  EU is firmly on track to achieve its 2020 target to reduce GHG emissions by 20 %, compared with 1990 levels, reaching a 23.2 % reduction based on preliminary estimations for 2018.

The share of renewable energy in energy consumption increased continuously between 2004 and 2018, from 8.5 % to 18 %, close to the Europe 2020 target of 20 %. The share of renewable energy in the Member States was highest in Sweden (54.6 % of energy consumption compared to the national target of 49 %) followed by Finland (41.16 %) and Latvia (40.29 %). This share was lowest in Luxembourg (9.06 %), Malta (7.38 %) and the Netherlands (7.38 %).

The target on final energy consumption (expressed in million tonnes of oil equivalent, Mtoe) risks not being reached, as stated by EEA. Although for a group of 11 countries final energy consumption has fallen, outperforming the national targets (e.g. Italy, reaching a positive balance of 7,5 Mtoe), other countries are far from their targets.

This is the case in Spain (the difference between consumption and target is 6,7 Mtoe), in France (excessive consumption compared to the target of 15,21 Mtoe) and in Germany (excessive consumption of 21 Mtoe compared to the target).

The crucial issue remains how to restart the economy in a long-run perspective- hopefully- through ambitious, coordinated and sustainable actions to make Europe more resilient to emergencies, reducing inequality and investing more in health systems, clean energy, and digitalization.

 

External references:

[1] Earth Day highlights Climate Action, WMO

[2a] For a Europe that cares for all – during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

[2b] Business Europe letter

[2c] Greenpeace, european governments call for green recovery-plan, 2020

[3] European Commission proposal for a regulation: European Climate Law

[4] European Climate Pact, Public consultation

[5] Climate change: Significant drop in EU emissions in 2018 but further effort needed to reach 2030 target, EEA

Francesco Foglia

PhD student, senior EU policy consultant , University of Reggio Calabria

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