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Press Release – 2040 Climate Target: EU eyes higher climate ambition but role of carbon removal and impacts on energy system must be clarified

Publish date: February 6, 2024

Bellona welcomes the decision to support a higher ambition level in the Communication on a 2040 Climate Target, published alongside the Industrial Carbon Management Strategy, where the EU sets its sights towards reducing net emissions by 90% by 2040 compared to 1990 levels, on the lower end of scientific recommendations. However, the suggested target overly relies on the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and fails to distinguish between removals sequestrated in temporary land sinks and permanent storage. As outlined by Bellona Europa in the past, these must be managed separately due to their fundamentally different characteristics and storage duration.  

«Higher climate ambition is always welcome, but here the Commission combines the restoration of nature with the industrial removal of CO2 from the atmosphere into one confusing number, conflating carbon temporarily stored in nature and carbon permanently stored underground. Expecting to counterbalance more than 10% of today’s emissions by 2050, especially in this way, puts excessive pressure on nature to get us out of the climate crisis.»

Mark Preston Aragonès

Policy Manager, Carbon Accounting

The 2040 target impact assessment shows that to meet its climate objectives the EU needs to intensify its effort to transition its energy system towards an efficient one based on renewables. Frontloading investments in generation, transmission and direct electrification is crucial to ensure maximum mitigation outcomes. The need to both expand and clean up the EU’s power sector is made clear in the EU’s plans. However, the ability of the power sector to decarbonise and grow to the extent expected requires further clarification and efforts in the coming months. Much emphasis is placed on capturing huge volumes of CO2 directly from the atmosphere, as well as producing electrolytic hydrogen, synthetic fuels, and other synthetic materials – potentially requiring several Germany’s-worth of annual electricity production with often questionable climate benefits. While those processes will very likely have a contribution, the expectations placed on these technologies, which draw significant amounts of clean power from the energy system, will need to be managed in the coming years.  

«The projected high reliance on hydrogen and direct air capture sees the equivalent of two thirds of the current European electricity generation used for these technologies. It’s thus crucial to ensure that the power sector is well equipped to both undergo its transition and to provide additional electricity for these technologies. Reducing the reliance on hydrogen-based fuels by maximising direct electrification would allow for a more attainable energy transition. »

Marta Lovisolo

Senior Policy Advisor, Renewable Energy Systems

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