The European Commission set an ambitious mid-term target, supported by an extensive Impact Assessment, paving the way to climate neutrality by 2050.

Climate change has a fundamental impact on the collective wellbeing of everyone on our planet, posing a major threat to human health, intensifying the severity of disasters, as well as hunger and water scarcity. The new mid-term climate target for the year 2040 proposed by the European Commission is expected to shape the future of climate policy and act as a pivotal factor on the EU’s path to climate neutrality.

On 6 February 2024, the European Commission (EC) released a proposal for the new 2040 climate target, suggesting that the EU engages in efforts toward a net greenhouse gas emission reductions of 90% compared with 1990 levels.

“Today the Commission is laying an important steppingstone in our path to climate neutrality by 2050,” said Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič.

The proposal stresses the importance of ensuring more efficient use of public financing to help create a business case for emerging green technologies, the development of raw material supply chains, as well as the development and deployment of the necessary infrastructure, while guaranteeing affordable energy prices.

“We have just lived through the hottest year on record. The case for climate action is beyond doubt and requires planning now,” highlighted Commissioner for Climate Action Wopke Hoekstra. “Going forward, we will have to stand more firmly on two legs: a safe and healthy climate for all to live in, and a strong, resilient economy with a bright future for business and a just transition for all. This communication we are presenting today is also a message to our partners around the world that Europe continues to lead the way in global climate ambition. Tackling the climate crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure everyone crosses the finish line, and nobody is left behind.”

Some of the essential analysis supporting the development of the proposal was conducted by IIASA research teams led by senior research scholars Andre Deppermann and Lena Höglund-Isaksson from the Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group in the IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program and the Pollution Management Research Group in the IIASA Energy, Climate, and Environment Program.

“Tackling the problem of climate change requires a systems approach,” explains Höglund-Isaksson. “This work is a collaborative effort of five European modeling groups. The models can obviously not predict the future, but our projections can still provide policymakers with useful “navigation maps” of possible futures that are internally consistent in terms of assumptions across countries and other stakeholders.”

As part of this work, IIASA scientists contributed to the analysis of emission and mitigation pathways for non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) greenhouse gas emissions. They also provided estimates of costs for emission mitigation and provided constant technical advice and content support to the European Commission.

“In order to achieve this ambitious target, substantial carbon removals will be needed to compensate for the remaining emissions. While the EC Communication stresses the role played by progressive development of industrial carbon removals, it is important to note that the land-based removals are still expected to make a major contribution, which poses challenges but also opens opportunities for the sector,” notes Deppermann.

“For the first time ever the Impact Assessment accompanying the EC Communication devotes substantial attention to the challenges climate change and related natural disturbances such as forest fires represent for EU forest managers' ability to maintain a substantial carbon sink,” adds Mykola Gusti, a senior research scholar at IIASA associated with the Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group

The impact assessment accompanying the proposal is heavily based on calculations conducted over the last two years with several IIASA models: the Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies (GAINS), the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM), and the Global Forest Model (G4M).

A legislative proposal will be made and agreed with the European Parliament and Member States as required under the EU Climate Law by the next Commission after the European elections in June 2024.

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