The EU’s Rose-Colored Glasses On Paris Commitments

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The European Union published its latest climate action progress report last week, in which it claimed it was “on track” to implement the goals of its Paris Agreement commitments, despite seeing emissions increase slightly between 2016 and 2017.

The EU published its annual progress report last week, entitled “EU and the Paris climate agreement: Taking stock of progress at Katowice COP,” in which it outlined the efforts being made to deliver on its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 as compared with 1990. The report explained that greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 22% between 1990 and 2017, but that emissions increased slightly between 2016 and 2017, by around 0.6%, and mainly within the transport and industry sectors.

However, the European Union Commission, which authored the report, believes that the EU nevertheless remains on track to deliver on its Paris commitment. Specifically, the report pointed to commitments made earlier this year in June to increase the EU’s renewable energy target, and implement energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions targets as proof that the EU was on track to meet its goals. The European Union increased its renewable energy target in June from 27% to 32% — a lackluster move described variously as “inadequate,” “paltry,” “far too low,” and a “spectacular failure” — and then, a few days later, it agreed to implement an energy efficiency savings goal of 32.5% and a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

In its progress report published last week, the European Commission made the bold claim that, if these three targets are “fully implemented, it is estimated to result in a cut in EU emissions of around 45% by 2030.”

Total EU GHG emissions (historical emissions 1990-2017, projected emissions 2018-2030) (Mt CO2-eq.) and GHG reduction targets

Policies already in place across the 28 Member States are projected to decrease emissions by 30% by 2030, and the EU claims that “Member States are now preparing national energy and climate plans that are expected to close the gap between existing planned measures at national level and what is now required at the EU level” and that these plans will be submitted by the end of the year.

The report was also quick to highlight that its greenhouse gas emissions reductions were not impacting the region’s economic growth, further providing the global decoupling of economic growth and emissions reductions. Specifically, the EU economy grew by 58% over the same period that it decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 22%, and the EU economy now emits half as much CO2 per unit of GDP as it did in 1990.

The EU’s GHG emissions, real GDP and GHG emission intensity (1990 = 100)

Continuing its rosy approach to its published accomplishments and numbers, and despite a slight increase in emissions between 2016 and 2017, the EU believes that it “remains firmly on track to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of a 20% reduction compared to 1990.” However — and the EU deserves credit for including this boilerplate disclaimer — “there are still considerable challenges ahead, as emissions have decreased only slowly the past years.”

Specifically, the European Commission highlighted the relatively lackluster speed of emissions reductions over the past four years — amounting to only a 3% reduction — and also highlighted that the lion’s share of this reduction took place in the energy supply sector, where emissions are down 11% as compared to 2013. Conversely, emissions from transport, agriculture, and international aviation have all increased over the past four years; transport emissions have increased by 7%, while emissions from industrial processes “have varied from year to year, showing no clear trend.”

However, the European Commission’s opinion of its targets is somewhat suspect, relying instead on an optimistic view of how the next years will play out. According to analysis from Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE Europe), the European branch of the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, Europe as a whole seems to be doing the bare minimum — in part, because some Member States like Germany are simply not doing much at all. Germany is already behind on its 20% greenhouse gas reduction target, while countries like France, Ireland, and the Netherlands are all behind on the 20% renewable energy target.

As regards the loudly touted 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, according to FoE Europe, this is roughly business as usual if current trends remain in place. While a 45% target would require a little more from the region, it is not guaranteed that everyone is on board with such a plan. At a recent EU Ministers’ Meeting, agreement on increasing the target to 45% was not forthcoming, raising questions about the commitment of all Member States to a 45% reduction.

“On its own terms, the EU’s progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, switching to renewable energy, and saving energy is visible but with weak patches,” said Susann Scherbarth, climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe. “When it comes to facing up to the planetary emergency of climate breakdown, the EU is far off track and needs a step change to completely stop funding fossil fuels and transform to a fully fossil-free energy system by 2030.”

“The EU’s current targets are still a long way away from what is needed to remain below 1.5C, which is the most important measure,” explained Sebastian Mang, EU climate and energy policy adviser for Greenpeace’s European Unit.

“The IPCC warned that the world must halve carbon emissions by 2030, before falling to net zero by mid-century at the latest, to limit global warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. None of the EU’s climate and energy targets meet this criteria. Indeed, even the Commission has itself acknowledged that the EU’s current 2030 climate and energy targets are not high enough. To remedy this, the EU is now preparing to review its long-term climate strategy for 2050. Because the time period to 2030 is particularly important, this will have to mean that the EU revises its 2030 climate and energy targets upwards significantly.

“Even the 2030 energy efficiency and renewable energy targets are not so impressive, because technology costs are falling rapidly. The renewable energy target for 2030 is particularly disappointing. Even IRENA has shown that a 34% target for renewable energy in the EU is cost-effective. This, of course, does not account for the costs of climate change. We now know the science of climate change, have the technology to combat it, and could transform our economies with said technologies. What is missing is political will. The review of the EU’s long-term strategy must bring the EU’s climate and energy policy in line with scientific consensus that we must limit global warming to 1.5C.”

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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