EU voting on new climate target for 2020

On 23 June 2011 the European Parliament will vote on proposals to strengthen the EU target for emission reductions of greenhouse gases in the European Union until 2020. Later during the year the European Council will also decide on the new target. The decision could be an important step towards the possibility of reaching agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol during the UN climate conference in South Africa in December 2011.The present EU target of a 20 per cent reduction is not enough to assure that global temperatures will stay at 2 degrees, a climate policy goal set up by the EU in 1996 and in the UN in 2010. IPCC scenarios from 2007 which analyse how to avoid a global temperature increase of 2–2.4 degrees suggest that industrialised countries must reduce emissions by at least 25–40 per cent by 2020. In the meantime more than 100 countries in the UN are demanding a target of 1.5 degrees due to new scientific research on the dangers of climate change, and much larger reduction targets are now needed to reach this goal.

Environmental NGOs such as the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe and AirClim are demanding that the European Union should as a first step decide this year to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent through domestic measures by 2020. Several EU parliamentarians have also argued for a new 40 per cent target by 2020 for the EU.

EU committees have discussed the new targets over spring. Before the end of 2011, the EU should pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 (from 1990 levels), according to a resolution agreed by the Environment Committee on 24 May 2011. This would create millions of additional jobs in the EU and yield other economic benefits, the committee said. Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL), who drafted the resolution, said: "The European Parliament's position has been shifting over the last year. There is now broad support for a 30 per cent reduction target and a growing realization that ambitious climate policies are in Europe's own economic interest."

A 30 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions is possible by 2020 if Europe meets its efficiency targets, according to the calculations used by Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and reported by EurActiv. All that was needed was for a strong energy efficiency directive in June 2011 to recommend that the EU's efficiency targets be made binding.

The most recent data shows the EU has reduced its emissions by 17.3 per cent compared to 1990 levels, and has therefore almost reached its objective for 2020. This is not all due to the financial crisis, argues WWF Europe. "European emissions have dropped each year since 2005. Further, the European Environment Agency projects business-as-usual emissions to stabilize below 2008 levels – so a massive emissions rebound is not anticipated. If existing and planned EU policies are effectively implemented, the European Commission estimates an emission reduction potential of 1.4 to 1.8 Gt CO2-eq in 2020. This alone would cover most of the gap even to a 40 per cent target, provided member states also take ambitious measures."
Achieving only 20 per cent by 2020 would mean much deeper emission reductions in later years. The EU has already committed to reducing emissions by 80–95 per cent by 2050, implying a 40 per cent reduction by 2020 under a linear trajectory.

Greenpeace Europe argues that "delaying emission cuts makes them more costly. The International Energy Agency estimates that each year of delay adds an extra €336 billion (US$500 billion) to the clean investment needed globally in the energy sector between 2010 and 2030".

One of the key EU countries blocking the increase in the EU target is Germany. A recent study by Ökoinstitut shows that Germany is still running 76 very old and very inefficient fossil-fuel power stations with a production capacity of 21 Gigawatt built in the 1960s, which should be closed immediately.

Reinhold Pape

Proposals by the Stockholm Environment Institute in "The 40% Study" for achieving a 40 per cent domestic reduction in greenhouse gases in the EU by 2020 (published by FOE Europe):


  • An ambitious binding sub-target for energy savings and GHG emissions in transport in line with the 40 per cent target
  • a fossil fuel and kerosene tax and redirection of direct and indirect subsidies to expand and improve public transport and invest in electrification
  • phasing out of EU public financing for the construction of new road and aviation infrastructure and significant increases in financial support for rail and mobility management systems
  • reduced energy intensity of car fleets by 30 per cent by 2020 compared to current levels and progressive phasing out of internal combustion vehicles through aggressive vehicle performance and technology standards
  • progressive electrification of vehicles by 2050 and rail by 2030
  • an infrastructure plan ensuring that rail network is more than doubled by 2050
  • regulations ensuring that all electric vehicles and rail run on renewable electricity.



  • an ambitious binding sub target for energy savings and GHG emission reductions from agriculture in line with the 40 per cent target, in particular to set ever-tightening standards on emissions from fertilisers and livestock, and to reduce emissions caused by the production of animal feeds outside Europe
  • reform of the EU's Common Agriculture Policy to develop a new food and farming policy for Europe that shifts political and financial support away from climate unfriendly intensive agriculture towards sustainable farming, based on agro ecology and the support of biodiversity.



  • an ambitious binding sub-target for energy savings and GHG emissions in buildings in line with the 40 per cent target
  • EU funds to be made available immediately for energy saving measures in every household or at least secure upfront capital
  • an overarching framework to streamline different sets of legislation on energy performance in buildings and energy efficiency of appliances
  • improvement of the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive to ensure 'passive house' standards for all new buildings by 2015 and retrofits for nearly all buildings at a rate of 5 per cent per year.



  • an ambitious binding sub-target for energy savings in industry in line with the 40 per cent target
  • EU ETS cap in line with the 40 per cent target with 100 per cent auctioning of allowances and the auctioning revenues used 100 per cent for climate finance
  • EU ETS to exclude offsetting (CDM projects) and free allowances
  • no expansion of the EU ETS to other Annex I carbon markets or Southern countries
  • incentives to shift towards less fossil-intensive techniques and research and development in alternative processes for energy intensive sectors such as cement, steel and chemicals.


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