The climate and biodiversity situation is alarming. The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasises that human activities have been warming the planet at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years. In order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, the European Commission presented a set of proposals entitled ‘Fit for 55’, the introduction of which is supposed to allow for the necessary acceleration of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the quality of set governmental measures by individual countries aiming to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement significantly differs at a global level and the comparison shows that certain countries are significantly lagging behind.
IPCC experts: Certain trends are already irreversible
On 7 August 2021, the most recent and much-awaited sixth assessment report of the IPCC was published. The report discusses the most recent physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. And the information brought by the report is not very positive – it describes climate change as a widespread, rapid and intensifying phenomenon, with certain trends already irreversible, at least in the current time frame. However, IPCC experts say there is still time to curb climate change.
The report prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries emphasises the fact that human activities warm the climate at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years. IPCC scientists warn that global warming by 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century. Unless CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are quickly and significantly reduced over the next few decades, achieving the 2015 Paris Agreement targets will be out of reach.
The report explains that stabilising the climate will require a strong, fast and permanent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and achieving net zero CO2 emissions. Intensive and permanent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions could rapidly improve air quality and stabilise global temperatures in 20 to 30 years.
The report clearly demonstrates how closely the observed temperature increase is linked to human activity, more clearly than any previous report. The means to control climate change are already within reach. Limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C is therefore no longer a question of feasibility, but rather of political will.
Fit for 55: Transformation of the EU policies on climate, land use, energy, transport, and taxation
On 14 July 2021, the European Commission presented a set of proposals to revise and update EU legislation and introduce new initiatives to ensure that EU policies are in line with the EU’s climate goals, the so-called Fit for 55.
The Fit for 55 package consists of a set of interlinked proposals all working towards the same goal – ensuring a fair, competitive and green transformation by 2030 and beyond. Where possible, existing legislation is being adapted to make it more ambitious, with new proposals being put forward where necessary. Overall, the package strengthens the eight existing pieces of legislation and introduces five new initiatives in numerous policy areas and economic sectors (such as climate, energy and fuels, transport, buildings, land use and forestry).
Objectives of Fit for 55 legislative proposals and policy initiatives
1) Revision of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)
- Introduction of a decrease in the total emissions cap and increase in its annual reduction rate as part of the review of the EU ETS
- Expansion of the EU ETS to include shipping
- Revision of aviation emissions rules (phasing out free aviation emission allowances and achieving compliance with Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA)
- Establishing a separate emissions trading scheme intended for road transport and buildings
2) Revision of the Effort Sharing Regulation on Member States’ emission reduction targets for sectors outside the EU ETS
- Enabling the adoption of national measures to address emissions in the construction, transport, agriculture, waste management and small industries sectors (reducing emissions from these sectors across the whole EU by 40% by 2030 compared to 2005)
3) Revision of the Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)
- Setting higher targets for the expansion of natural carbon sequestration in the EU and EU targets for net GHG sequestration in land use and forestry in the amount of 310 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030
4) Revision of the Renewable Energy Directive
- Increasing the overall binding target for renewables in the EU energy mix from the current 32% to a new level of 40%
- Making the energy system more efficient by promoting electrification based on renewable sources, potentially also in industry and transport, promoting the use of renewable fuels (such as clean hydrogen)
5) Revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive
- Committing to more ambitious energy efficiency targets at the EU level, leading to a 9% reduction in energy consumption by 2030 compared to baseline projections
6) Revision of the Directive on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure
- Introducing the necessary infrastructure for “cleaner vehicles” to enable recharging and refuelling across the EU
- Taking into account the latest market developments and guaranteeing coverage also in rural and remote areas
7) Amendment to the regulation setting CO2 emission standards for passenger cars and vans
- Achieving zero-emission mobility
- Introducing more ambitious CO2 emission standards (to help get zero-emission vehicles on the road faster)
8) Revision of the Energy Taxation Directive
- Aligning the minimum tax rates on heating fuels and fuels with the EU climate and environmental targets
- Removing outdated exemptions (e.g. for air and maritime transport) and other incentives to use fossil fuels
- Promoting the transition to clean fuels
9) Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)
- An instrument that introduces market dynamics and protects the integrity of EU and global climate policies by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and globally and incentivising relevant sectors to modernise, become more sustainable and reduce carbon content
- Ensuring that domestic and imported products pay the same price for carbon (the mechanism will be non-discriminatory and compatible with WTO rules and other EU international commitments)
10) The ReFuelEU Aviation initiative relating to sustainable aviation fuels
- Ensuring that suppliers add an increasing proportion of sustainable aviation fuels to the existing aviation fuels refuelled at EU airports and switch to synthetic fuels known as e-fuels
11) The FuelEU Maritime initiative relating to green European maritime space
- Introduction of new requirements for ships arriving in or departing from EU ports, regardless of their flag (setting a maximum limit on the greenhouse gas content of the energy sources used by these ships, making it stricter over time)
12) Social Climate Fund
- Provision of funding to the Member States to support European citizens most affected by or at risk of poverty in terms of energy or mobility
- Including support for investment in energy efficiency improvements and renovation of buildings, clean heating and cooling and the integration of renewable energy in a way that can sustainably reduce both CO2 emissions and energy bills for vulnerable households and micro-businesses
- Financing access to zero and low emission mobility
Only one country is consistent with the targets of the Paris Agreement
Although climate change is a global problem, not all countries are taking action as proactively as the EU. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific project created by two research organisations that have been tracking climate action since 2009. Its aim is to provide policy-makers, civil society and the media with an up-to-date assessment of individual country greenhouse gas reduction targets and an overview of their combined effects on a global scale.
In September 2021, CAT published a Global Update report that provides an overview of climate developments over the past year. It also illustrates the new CAT country assessment, analysing individual government climate actions based on the updated method and examining their consistency with achieving the globally agreed Paris Agreement target.
The new comprehensive CAT rating system reveals a few lone forerunners, but most government targets and actions remain very or critically deficient. In terms of national actions, only one developed country has a national target that is rated “1.5°C compatible” under the new CAT rating system – the UK. Some other countries are close to achieving this target (e.g. Germany or Norway). However, national targets are only one dimension of the activities necessary to assure consistency with the Paris Agreement. None of these governments has put forward a sufficient plan for international funding relating to climate, which is an absolutely essential starting point for ambitious targets in developing countries that need support to reduce their emissions. As a result, the EU, Germany and Norway are rated as inadequate in the new overall CAT assessment, while the UK is rated slightly better as almost adequate. Only one developing country – the Gambia – achieved an overall rating of “1.5°C compatible” in the new CAT rating system launched with this update.