According to a recent report by the European Commission, the European Union (EU) faces the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions nearly three times faster than it has in the past decade in order to achieve its climate targets.
The EU has committed to decreasing its emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, with the aim of curbing the increasing severity of extreme weather events. However, the report highlights that emissions have only been reduced by 32% over the past 30 years, leaving significant gaps to bridge within the next 7 years.
Current projections indicate that existing, implemented policies will only reduce emissions by 43% by 2030. This increases to 48% if unimplemented policies are included also. Nonetheless, a substantial 7% point gap remains in terms of climate action and the 55% target.
Wopke Hoekstra, the EU’s new climate commissioner, emphasised the need for an acceleration in emissions reduction to fully meet these targets.
The report acknowledged the EU’s efforts to rapidly reduce its reliance on Russian gas following the conflict in Ukraine, which significantly elevated energy prices. Imports of Russian gas have decreased from 155 billion cubic meters in 2021 to an estimated 40-45 billion cubic meters in 2023.
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The EU has also witnessed a surge in the adoption of clean technologies like wind turbines and solar panels. Despite this, the report highlighted that there is now the need for a more significant growth in the use and production of renewable energy than seen in the past decade. The share of renewables in European energy has grown by an average of 0.67 percentage points annually, reaching 21.8% in 2021. Achieving the EU’s target of 42.5% by the end of the decade will necessitate substantially faster growth.
Hoekstra highlighted three key areas that need attention. Firstly, significant emissions reductions are required in the building and transportation sectors, where progress has been slow. Secondly, the natural carbon sink, which is something that absorbs more carbon than it produces, needs to expand, as some regions are seeing it become a source of emissions. Lastly, more substantial progress is needed in reducing emissions from the agricultural sector.
Regarding fossil fuels, Hoekstra expressed concern about subsidies and their impact on the transition to clean energy. He emphasised the importance of reminding national governments about their obligations to gradually eliminate these subsidies. In light of the ongoing energy crisis, numerous EU member states have taken measures to simplify the utilisation of fossil fuels, leading to a substantial increase in subsidies, which reached €123 billion in 2022. Alarmingly, half of these subsidies lack a predefined expiration date within this decade, as highlighted in the report.
At the upcoming COP28 climate summit, the EU plans to advocate for a global phaseout of unmitigated fossil fuels and specific subsidies. Hoekstra underlined the need for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or facilitate a just transition, in accordance with the COP28 mandate that all EU member states have agreed upon.