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The European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, established by the European Climate Law, recommends EU emission reductions of 90–95% by 2040, relative to 1990, grounded on a science-based assessment addressing both fairness and feasibility.

In its report ‘Scientific advice for the determination of an EU-wide 2040 climate target and a greenhouse gas budget for 2030–2050’ released today, the EU’s advisory body on climate change provides EU institutions with a science-based estimate of a 2040 climate target and an EU greenhouse gas emissions budget for the period 2030-2050.

The Advisory Board conducted a comprehensive assessment of the latest available scientifically based greenhouse gas emission scenarios for achieving climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The findings, based on rigorous analysis considering both fairness and feasibility, highlight the urgent need for ambitious actions to address climate change. The report also outlines possible pathways and related overarching policy choices to achieve the necessary emission reductions.

2030-2050 carbon budget and the 2040 climate target

The Advisory Board recommends keeping the EU's greenhouse gas emissions budget (i.e. cumulative emissions) for the period 2030 to 2050 within a limit of 11-14 Gt CO2e, in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 °C (with no or only limited and temporary exceedance of that temperature).

To achieve this, the EU must strive for net emissions reductions of 90-95% by 2040, relative to 1990 levels. These reductions are essential for mitigating climate risks and achieving a sustainable future.

Prof. Ottmar Edenhofer, Chair of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, commented, ‘The Advisory Board's recommendations underscore the need for bold and transformative actions to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 in a way that is both fair and feasible. To do this, the EU should reduce emissions by 90-95% by 2040, relative to 1990 levels. By making the right policy choices and embracing sustainable innovations, we can pave the way for a resilient future.

Both feasibility and fairness should be considered

To identify feasible emission reductions in the EU by 2040, the Advisory Board analysed over 1000 EU emission pathways, identifying those scenarios that align with the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and the EU’s goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The Advisory Board assessed these scenarios and considered their feasibility, including the environmental risks and challenges associated with short-term scale-up of technologies including for solar photovoltaics, wind power, and hydrogen energy.

To select the scenarios that achieve an appropriate EU contribution to the Paris Agreement temperature goal, the Advisory Board also assessed the fairness of the EU's contribution to global emissions reduction efforts under different ethical principles. Under all assumptions assessed, the Advisory Board identified a shortfall between the feasible pathways for domestic emissions, and fair share estimates based on different equity principles.

To address this shortfall, the EU should aim for the upper limit of feasible reductions in domestic emissions. Support, cooperation and partnerships outside the EU can also address the shortfall between the EU’s fair share and the recommended feasible budget.

The recommended 2040 target and 2030-2050 budget can be realised by starting with the achievement of the current 55% reduction target by 2030. Additional short-term emission reductions would further decrease the EU’s cumulative emissions until 2050, and thus increase the fairness of the EU’s contribution to global mitigation.

Prof. Jette Bredahl Jacobsen, Vice-Chair of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, commented: ‘To ensure that the EU’s climate action is both feasible and fair, the EU's climate mitigation efforts should look both inside and outside the EU. This entails pursuing ambitious reductions in domestic greenhouse gas emissions while actively contributing to global emission cuts.’

Implications for society

The assessed scenarios reveal several common features that are important to consider. One notable aspect found in multiple scenarios is the significant deployment of wind and solar energy, combined with electrification of energy use and scale-up of fossil fuel alternatives such as hydrogen.

Pathways combining this technology scale-up with efficiency gains can lead to a near-complete decarbonisation of the EU power sector by 2040, including the phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 and unabated gas-fired generation by 2040. These pathways also minimise the EU’s reliance on removal of CO2 from the atmosphere (by either novel carbon removal technologies or enhancement of the natural land sink) thereby minimising the risks associated with relying on these approaches. However, even these pathways require carbon removal at scale in order to achieve climate neutrality.

Prof. Edenhofer added: ‘Establishing a policy framework that incentivises emissions reductions while also incentivising rapid scale-up of carbon removal is a key challenge for policymakers in the months to come. Emission reductions are the priority, but sustainable carbon removals from both the land sector and novel technologies also require rapid scaling up, with careful management of associated risks and challenges.

Furthermore, the analysis highlights the numerous benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and natural resources. In addition to reducing EU dependency on fossil fuel imports, thereby increasing its energy security, this transition enhances the health and wellbeing of EU citizens through improved air quality. It can also reduce water stress and lead to better nature protection. However, realising these benefits requires careful planning at European, national and local levels, with inclusive decision-making, engagement with stakeholders, ensuring equity and justice, and catalysing innovation and wider capacity development.

Prof. Laura Diaz Anadon, Vice-Chair of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, commented: ‘The recommended 2040 target requires us to act quickly, ensuring smooth transitions to address environmental risks and tackle the challenges of scaling up technology. There are multiple pathways to achieve climate neutrality, requiring careful and adaptive decision making to navigate various policy options. All these pathways can generate numerous other benefits, including significant improvements in health and enhanced energy security.’

Download the Advisory Board’s report with recommendations on the determination of an EU-wide 2040 climate target and a greenhouse gas budget for 2030–2050 here.

Public webinar 

Following the publication, the Advisory Board will host a public webinar on 20 June at 14:00. The Advisory Board will present the new report, which will be followed by a session with questions from the participants.

You can sign up the public webinar here [registration closed]. Please note that the webinar has limited availability, with only the first 150 people who sign up being able to participate directly in the webinar.

It will also be possible to livestream the webinar on the Advisory Board's website.

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