A possible 2050 climate target for the EU

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This study assesses the EU’s 2050 target, i.e. halving global emissions by 2050 to be in line with 2°C, in today’s setting to evaluate if the target, which was set ten years ago, is still appropriate and/or sufficient. It offers recommendations for the EU to aim for more ambitious targets.

Key findings:

The EU’s 2050 greenhouse gas reduction target of 80% to 95% from 1990 levels adopted 10 years ago is outdated as its basis has changed substantially. The global goal agreed in Paris in 2015 is more ambitious and pathways to that goal are now steeper not only because of the more ambitious goal but also because global emissions have increased since then.

An 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels for the EU is not compatible with the long-term temperature limit of the Paris Agreement. Also, the 95% reduction and even GHG neutrality by 2050 are not ambitious enough to be a fair contribution of the EU to many interpretations of the Paris Agreement.

The EU has already spent its fair share of GHG emissions and would need to reduce GHG emissions to zero almost immediately (by 2030 – 2040) to leave room for other countries with less historical responsibility and capability to emit the very limited remaining budget, which obviously would be technically challenging (Figure 1). This result is based on a comprehensive review of studies that allocate emissions to countries based on equity principles.

Figure 1. GHG emission levels in 2050 and net zero emission years

Therefore, two recommendations for the EU are made:

• Set a domestic GHG emission reduction target about reaching net-zero domestic GHG emissions well before 2050, including international transport but excluding international offsets

• Undertake a package of actions that is fully in line with the higher responsibility and capability of the EU compared to other countries. It should lead to effective net-zero emissions by 2030 to 2040 and net-negative emissions of roughly 2.5 GtCO2e in 2050. It would include domestic emission reductions, financial support to other countries, innovation and GHG removal from the atmosphere and only very limited offsetting.

Strengthening the 2030 target is equally important, as this is still only set to a minimum of only 40% reduction.

Contact for further information: Hanna Fekete, Carsten Warnecke, Niklas Höhne