EU continues to meet climate target, plans 55% fewer emissions by 2030

The Green Deal for Europe commits the EU to implementing important structural energy efficiency measures. However, given the current geopolitical and market situation, companies themselves should actively seek opportunities to reduce energy consumption. Read about the EU’s progress in terms of reducing emissions, what the upcoming update of the Industrial Emissions Directive will bring and how the REPowerEU plan responds to the energy crisis.

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EU exceeds 2020 climate target, emissions down by 34%

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has submitted official data from the European Union’s annual greenhouse gas inventory 1990-2020 and the 2022 inventory report to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The report shows that by 2020, the European Union had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% in comparison to the 1990 levels, thus exceeding the 20% target.

The EEA states that the EU had already reduced its emissions by 26% in 2019, reaching its 20% target before the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect emission levels. In 2020 alone, emissions fell by a further 11%, also due to the introduction of measures to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

Key factors that have led to emission drops over the last three decades include the increasing use of renewable energy resources, the use of low-carbon fossil fuels, improvements in energy efficiency, structural changes in the economy, lower demand for heating due to warmer winters in Europe, and the aforementioned COVID-19 pandemic, which had a noteworthy effect on emission reductions in 2020.

Several policies (both at the EU and the national level) have contributed to the overall reduction of GHG emissions, including key agricultural and environmental policies in the 1990s and climate and energy policies in the last 15 years. Almost all EU Member States have reduced their emissions compared to 1990, contributing to the overall positive outcome.

Despite these results, it must be stressed that there is a serious risk of emissions rising again. Under the European climate law approved last year, the EU is aiming for a 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, before reaching net zero by 2050 – hence the call for intensive cooperation and the implementation of strong solutions.

REPowerEU plan promises rapid reduction of dependence on Russian fossil fuels

On 18 May 2022, the European Commission presented the REPowerEU plan as a response to the disruption to the global energy market caused by the conflict in Ukraine. The transformation of the European energy system is urgent not only for the purpose of ending the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels but also because of the looming climate crisis.

A central element of the REPowerEU plan is the so-called Recovery and Resilience Facility, which supports coordinated planning and financing of cross-border and national infrastructure as well as energy projects and reforms.

According to REPowerEU, the fastest and cheapest way to tackle the current energy crisis and reduce costs is through energy savings. The Commission is therefore proposing to strengthen long-term energy efficiency measures, together with increasing the binding energy efficiency target from 9% to 13% set out in the “Fit for 55” legislative package of the Green Deal for Europe. To this end, the Commission has also published an EU Communication on Energy Saving, detailing short-term behavioural changes that could reduce gas and oil demand by 5% and encouraging Member States to launch specific communication campaigns targeting households and industry.

Renewable energy sources will also receive enhanced support. The aim is to increase the share of renewable energy to 45% in 2030. In relation to hydrogen, this means producing and importing 20 million tonnes
of hydrogen by 2030, along with intensified legislative and financial support. The promotion of photovoltaics is comprehensively addressed in the new Solar Energy Strategy. The EU will introduce new eco-design and energy labelling conditions for PV panels, promoting their greater energy efficiency and circularity. At the same time, the European Commission wants to speed up the construction and increase the number of solar installations and therefore proposes a mandatory assessment of solar installations as part of the building permit process. It also proposes that the permit process for solar power plants should not exceed 3 months. It also plans to make it mandatory to install solar panels on buildings – all new public and commercial buildings over 250 m2 by 2026, and all such buildings, including existing ones, by 2027. By 2029, it is supposed to be mandatory to install PV panels on all residential buildings without exception.

Modernisation of EU industrial emissions rules aims for long-term environmental transformation

On 5 April 2022, the Commission presented proposals to update and modernise the Industrial Emissions Directive. The updated rules will support the channelling of the industrial investment needed to transform Europe into a climate-neutral, competitive, zero-pollution economy by 2050. The rules aim to stimulate innovation, reward pioneering companies and contribute to creating a level playing field in the EU market.

The revision proceeds from the overall concept of the existing Industrial Emissions Directive, which currently covers around 52,000 large industrial installations and intensive livestock farms in Europe. These installations must comply with emission conditions, using activity-specific “best available techniques”. These techniques are jointly determined by industry, Member State experts, Commission experts, and civil society. The new rules will cover more relevant sources of emissions and are also intended to streamline permitting, reduce administrative costs, increase transparency, and better support industry investment in the circular economy, breakthrough technologies, and other innovative approaches.

In addition to the above changes, it is also proposed to extend the scope of the Industrial Emissions Directive to other livestock farming and industrial activities. The newly proposed sectors include in particular extractive industry installations (mines), “gigaworks” for the production of batteries for electric vehicles and large-scale cattle and other pig and poultry farms.

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