New EU climate target – a 90% reduction of GHG emissions by 2040

Tuesday 20 February 2024

At the beginning of February 2024, the European Commission published its recommendation for a 2040 target, setting it to a 90% reduction compared to 1990 emission levels. The target setting required by the EU Climate Law ((EU) 2021/1119) are now in place: a 55% reduction by 2030 and 90% by 2040 to then reach climate neutrality by 2050.  

Last summer the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change – an independent body that provides the EU with scientific knowledge and expertise – published its advice regarding the level of the target. To be in line with the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5 °C, the board recommended a net emissions reduction target of 90-95% by 2040, relative to 1990 levels.

A recommendation with legislation to follow

The implementation of the Fit-for-55 package is of course a foundation for meeting the targets as well as monitoring progress of member states’ National Energy and Climate Plans. The next European Commission, which will take office at the end of 2024, is expected to put forward a legislative proposal of how to translate the 2040 target into practice.

Carbon removal is key to reaching the target

Important to note is that the 90% target is a net target, meaning that the door is open for carbon removal to play a part in reaching the target. It is clear that the European Commission views carbon removal as an important tool to reach the 2040 reduction targets, and it is therefore no coincidence that the EU Industrial Carbon Management strategy was presented at the same time as the 2040 targets. Together with the proposal for an EU Carbon Removal Certification Framework and the Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles, the strategy lays the groundwork for the deployment of the technologies as well as the development of the supply chains and infrastructure needed to establish a single European market for CO2. 

A focus on certain sectors

Leading up to the publication there had been talks about including sub-targets for specific sectors such as agriculture as well as a clear goal on the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies. In the final recommendation these were not included, however the European Commission does provide some pointers to how they see the transition of several sectors.  

The 2040 target would continue the transformation of the EU’s energy mix; renewables and nuclear will make up the majority with coal-fuelled power phased out and overall fossil fuel use reduced by 80%. Among renewables there is an emphasis on solar and wind, which is not surprising seeing the targeted strategies for those two sectors in the past years (EU Solar Energy Strategy and the Wind Power Package).

Decarbonisation of industry is key with the European Commission pointing towards recent legislation like the Net-Zero Industry Act, the Critical Raw Materials Act, and the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation. They also underline the importance of implementing the Circular Economy Action Plan and calls for a renewed partnership with industry for a circular economy agenda going forward.

For transport, the implementation of the Fit-for-55 package is expected to reduce emissions by 80% in 2040 compared to 2015. This will require significant investments in infrastructure. In 2026 the European Commission will also assess an extension of the EU ETS to the aviation and maritime sectors.

For buildings, the energy efficiency first principle will remain a priority as well as moving to renewable heating and cooling. The upcoming heat pump action plan is for example one part of this work.

For land, food, and bioeconomy, the European Commission is looking for more holistic policies to reduce emissions. In food, they are talking about a whole-of-food-sector approach covering also what happens outside the farm such as the chemical composition of fertilisers and circular use of food waste. Circularity and biobased products are also general concepts that are underlined.

Read more

EU climate target for 2040 (COM(2024) 63)
European Commission’s Impact Assessment on the EU climate target for 2040