In a Nutshell

In February 2024, the European Commission presented a Communication entitled “Securing our future: Europe’s 2040 climate target and path to climate neutrality by 2050, building a sustainable, just and prosperous society”, recommending a net reduction of 90% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040 compared to 1990 levels.

As part of the European Green Deal, the EU has set out legally binding climate objectives to (1) cut domestic GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and to (2) reach climate neutrality by 2050. The European Climate Law provides the legal framework to support these objectives and requires the European Commission to propose an intermediary 2040 climate target for the EU in the first half of 2024, accompanied by an indicative EU GHG budget for the period 2030-2050.

In its 2040 target communication, the Commission breaks down the 90% emission reduction target into twin targets, suggesting that by 2040, the EU should have less than 850 MtCO2 remaining emissions (so-called “residual emissions”) with a maximum of 400 MtCO2 removed through industrial and land-based solutions. However, it does not go as far as proposing a percentage target for removed carbon at this stage, nor does it clearly specify how much different types of removals should contribute to the overarching amount of removals. The Communication also considers the role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) in decarbonising the economy towards 2040.

Whilst the Communication does not impose any legally binding obligations on the EU, it will serve as the basis for a forthcoming Commission proposal to amend the European Climate Law as part of the post-2030 climate policy agenda. The Communication outlines eight building blocks necessary to achieve the 2040 target, which represent the recommended focus areas for the next Commission’s legislative mandate.

The 2040 climate target is closely linked to the Industrial Carbon Management Strategy, which elaborates on the Communication’s vision for how so-called ‘industrial carbon removal’ (iCDR, defined as BECCS, DACCS and biogenic carbon), CCS and CCU can help deliver climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, and net negative emissions thereafter.

What's on the Horizon?

The publication of the Communication is the first step towards coming to an agreement on the climate targets for 2040, which will result in the adoption of an amended European Climate Law with a new binding 2040 target and an accompanying package of proposals for sectoral policies from the European Commission.

  • Following the publication of the Communication, the Commission’s services (at Directorate General level) will kick off the work on the legislative proposal to revise the European Climate Law and enshrine the 2040 target, with DG CLIMA leading this file. The proposal is expected to be adopted by the Commission in the first quarter of 2025.
  • The European Parliament will form a lead committee responsible for the file and appoint a rapporteur, with the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) likely to be named in charge.
  • Once approved, the 2040 target will serve as the basis for the EU’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. The NDC will need to be submitted ahead of COP30, in November 2025. Therefore, the EU will strive to find an agreement by that date, although the revised Climate Law will likely be finalised in early 2026.
  • The adoption of the revised European Climate Law serves as the foundation for a new package of legislative proposals, aimed at realising the EU’s 2040 climate target.

Deep Dive

Understanding the targets

The proposed target does not yet have any binding effect on the EU or its member states. It serves to initiate a political debate that will inform the revision of the European Climate Law during the next legislative term. The preparatory process is expected to be challenging, as the 2040 target will need to strike a balance between climate ambition and pragmatism, given a changing political landscape with less focus on climate policy combined with a growing focus on industrial competitiveness and cost of living.

In the Communication and the accompanying Impact Assessment, the Commission considered three scenarios varying in ambition, taking the input from the public consultation and the advice of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change (ESABCC) into consideration:

  • Scenario 1: GHG reduction up to 80%
  • Scenario 2: GHG reduction between 85-90%
  • Scenario 3: GHG reduction between 90-95%.

The recommended -90% target, thus, falls between scenarios 2 and 3 and sets a floor for remaining emissions (850 MtCO2e) and a ceiling for removals (400 MtCO2) by 2040. The ESABCC recommendation was to adopt a target in keeping with scenario 3 of 90-95% emission reductions by 2040. The Communication’s focus on carbon management aligns more with Scenario 3, which requires early deployment of CDR, CCS and CCU technologies. The maximum target of 400 MtCO2 to be removed through industrial and land-based solutions effectively limits the extent to which the EU can rely on carbon removals to reach the 2040 target. Depending on its final level and design, the target could also potentially affect the ability of different CDR methods to scale and effectively contribute to reaching climate neutrality and net negative emissions thereafter.

Apart from those estimations, no other quantified CDR-related projections were included in the Communication. The Commission Impact Assessment does provide projections for removals under all three scenarios. Scenario 3, the most ambitious of all three, projects 391 MtCO2 to be removed from the atmosphere by 2040, amounting to -75 and -317 MtCO2 of industrial and land removals respectively. This falls short of the 400 MtCO2 to be removed according to the Commission Communication. The fact that the total amount of removals is not broken down into separate sub targets for industrial and land removals is incompatible with the like-for-like principle, according to which fossil emissions can only be compensated by permanent CDR.

Delivering on the 2040 targets: the role of carbon removal

  1. Asserting that the path towards climate neutrality ought to be complemented with a sustainable and competitive economy able to withstand geopolitical risks, the Commission outlines eight building blocks of the future policy agenda. These building blocks could incorporate CDR in various ways.
    1. A resilient and decarbonised energy system aims at phasing out fossil fuels and building clean supply chains and will require a broad portfolio of zero-/low-carbon technologies Here, iCDR can help balance residual emissions from hard-to-abate sectors like heavy industry and transport, as well as compensate for the last tons of fossil emissions in the power sector, enabling the transition to net-zero.
    2. An industrial revolution with competitiveness seeks to make Europe an attractive destination for investments, which could mean increased capital flows and efforts to de-risk investments in early-stage CDR projects.
    3. Infrastructure to deliver, transport and store CO2 will be essential for industrial decarbonisation and will also help scale up certain industrial carbon removal technologies like Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). Such a scale up of CO2 infrastructure will require significant investments accompanied by a non-discriminatory regulatory framework that is favourable to iCDR.
    4. Enhanced emissions reduction in agriculture could promote sustainable agricultural practices and carbon farming activities.
    5. Climate policy as investment policy is expected to create a stronger business case for zero- and low-carbon technologies and direct public investments towards sectors where high investment risks jeopardise commercial viability, which could help scale up and decrease the costs of DACCS/BECCS.
    6. Fairness, solidarity and social policies could ease the burden and costs of the clean transition with a growing CDR sector offering job opportunities for those previously employed by fossil fuels companies, whilst carbon farming practices provide an additional income stream for forest and land managers.

    EU climate diplomacy and partnerships should help the EU continue pushing for global climate ambition, promote successful EU policies and accelerate the work being done under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

  2. Risk management and resilience will see the EU develop a comprehensive climate adaptation strategy. In this context, land-based CDR can provide additional benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem restoration.

Room for improvement: integrating CDR in the 2040 climate framework

The publication of the 2040 Communication is a positive development for CDR in the EU, as it recognises the role of CDR in delivering climate neutrality and calls for their early deployment. In order for CDR to truly be a part of the solution to climate change, several improvements should be made.

  • The 90% net GHG emissions target for 2040 should be split into quantified “twin” targets for gross emissions reduction and CDR, both expressed as minimum contributions. This will provide clarity regarding each component’s contribution while safeguarding against over-reliance on removals.
  • The 2040 removal targets should be further split into sub targets for permanent and land-based removals, thereby ensuring clarity and visibility and providing the necessary investment incentives. Importantly, it will also recognise the difference between their contributions in line with the like-for-like principle and reduce the risks of mitigation deterrence.
  • The European Climate Law should adopt the notion of “permanent” rather than “industrial” removals in line with the Carbon Removal Certification Framework. Currently, the 2040 communication and the Impact Assessment differentiate between land removals and “iCDR”, defined as DACCS, BECCS and biogenic carbon. Such distinction fails to consider other promising methods, such as enhanced rock weathering. Only developing a future-proof diverse portfolio of CDR methods can ensure the EU meets its climate targets.

To address these points, the European Commission should produce a strategy solely dedicated to CDR.

 

Read more about Carbon Gap’s position on CDR under the 2040 climate framework here.

Timeline

29 July 2021
6 February 2024
Q1 2025
November 2025
29 July 2021

Enforcement of the European Climate Law

6 February 2024

Publication of the 2040 Communication

Q1 2025

Commission proposal to revise the European Climate Law

November 2025

Deadline to submit updated NDCs

Official Document

Year

2024

Unofficial Title

2040 targets