Energy ministers favour net zero carbon emissions by 2050
Posted on 04 March 2019
Four EU countries want a 100% renewables option
EU Energy Ministers showed broad support for a net zero carbon economy by mid-century at their meeting today. Four countries - Austria, Ireland, Lithuania and Luxembourg - also called for 100% renewable energy by 2050 to be considered by the European Commission, in a letter sent beforehand.
The ministers were meeting to discuss the European Commission’s proposed EU long-term climate strategy, which contains several options including net zero by 2050. Tomorrow, EU Environment Ministers will discuss the strategy.
Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office stated: “Energy Ministers understand that a net zero carbon economy will benefit Europe. It is also our only chance of avoiding climate catastrophe. But for that, we need to reach net zero earlier than even the Commission’s most ambitious scenario says - by 2040 - and do it in a socially fair way.
“To reach our net zero goal, we must stop burning all fossil fuels. This includes gas, and that means investing in new gas infrastructure is an unwise financial choice. Austria, Ireland, Lithuania and Luxembourg want 100% renewables to be an option in Europe’s long-term plan: other Member States must join them and the Commission pay heed.
“Environment Ministers tomorrow can take today’s momentum further. They have already shown they support net zero by 2050 - now they should speak out in favour of a rapid, just transition to an energy efficient, 100% renewable energy Europe by 2040. This must then become an option in the EU strategy, and be endorsed by Member States as rapidly as possible.”
In order to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 (see WWF's position), WWF calls for some major changes to be made to our energy system and energy investments:
In all of the decarbonisation scenarios presented by the Commission, fossil fuels see a rapid reduction. By 2050, no solid fossil fuels remain in the energy mix at all, and the role of others is small. We can in fact go further: the EU must stop investing in all fossil fuels immediately: Delays in doing so increase the risk of carbon infrastructure lock-in and create stranded assets
Continued investment in gas pipelines only serves to lock-in a fuel which ultimately provides little to no carbon reduction relative to other fossil fuels. Indeed, fossil gas is only advantageous over dirty coal if gas leakage and emission rates during its production are less than 2.7%. In most cases, they are around 3.4%.
Investment must instead be directed at improving energy efficiency and at upscaling renewables. Energy storage and smart grid solutions are accelerating, whilst renewables are now competitive with, and are even outcompeting, fossil fuels. The renewable and energy efficiency sector also provides sustainable and decent jobs: it will be, and already is, a foundation of the future economy
The technologies already exist for the transition to a net zero emissions society:
New technology solutions certainly have a role to play in the diverse and decentralised clean energy system: but this does not legitimise nor support a role for fossil fuels. Power to gas is considerably more expensive than most alternative energy storage solutions and also consumers up to five times the same amount of electricity as direct electrification.
There is no role for decarbonised fossil gas. Carbon dioxide used in electrofuels must originate from the atmosphere or from sustainable biomass, otherwise they could result in higher emissions than conventional fossil fuels. For greenhouse gas neutrality, the energy used for power to gas and carbon capture must be 100% renewable.
Carbon capture and utilisation for long-term storage must be weighed in terms of cost-effectiveness, resource and land consumption compared to other options, such as the carbon-free power-to-gas process (hydrolysis) and other consumer/grid-based solutions.
How would the low-carbon pathway be best implemented for both citizens and regions?
Rather than subsidising increasingly uncompetitive fossil fuel industries, the EU should instead fund a socially just, clean energy transition. The Commission has rightly highlighted the need to proactively manage energy transition; maximising the benefits of the transition for jobs and people and ensuring that no one is left behind.
The EU’s multiannual financial framework provides funds which can be used to drive the transition; most notably the ESF+, ERDF and the cohesion fund. These provide a basis for upskilling and retraining, as well as planning long-term development strategies. However, the funds leave the door open to fossil fuel investment, which delay the transition and generate stranded assets, harming workers and communities.
However, proactive management must not mean slowing the transition down: it means investment now in clean industry and the upskilling and retraining of workers
Head of Climate and Energy
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 2 743 88 18
Senior Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office