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.
  • Member states in the Council will have a first exchange of views during the Environment Council on 25 March 2024, followed by a policy debate on 17 June 2024.
  • 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.
  • Following the June 2024 elections, the new European Parliament and the Council will both propose amendments to the Commission’s proposal and negotiate the final text.
  • 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

In a Nutshell

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is a market-based approach for setting a price for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. It works on a ‘cap and trade’ basis whereby a ‘cap’ or limit is set on the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions allowed from specific sectors of the economy each year, with the aim of achieving emissions reductions over time. This cap is converted into tradable emission allowances, which are then allocated to market participants through free allocation or auctions. One allowance gives the holder the right to emit one tonne of CO2 (or its equivalent) during a specified period. Companies covered by the EU ETS must monitor and report their emissions each year and purchase or trade allowances as needed to cover their annual emissions.

Participants who are likely to emit more than their allocation have a choice between taking measures to reduce their emissions or buying additional allowances; either from the secondary market, for example companies who hold allowances they do not need, or from member state-held auctions. When participants reduce their emissions, they can either sell their allowances or keep them for the future.

The ETS is the EU’s main tool for addressing emissions reductions, covering the following sector, representing about 40% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions: power, heat generation, energy intensive industrial sectors, aviation, and, since the latest revision, the maritime sector. It is now in its fourth trading phase (2021-2030). In December 2022, the European Parliament and Council reached a political agreement on the reform of the ETS. The overall target of the revised ETS was increased to a 62% reduction in carbon emissions from the sectors covered by the scheme by 2030, up from 42.8% since its introduction in 2005.

Carbon removal is not included under the EU ETS, but the Commission is set to report, by 2026, on how negative emissions could be accounted for and covered by emissions trading.

The Innovation Fund, a key source of EU support for nascent carbon removal projects amongst other clean technologies, is funded by the auctioning of ETS allowances. At 75 euro/tCO2, the ETS is set to provide around EUR 38 billion from 2020 to 2030 to the Fund.

What's on the Horizon?

The provisional political agreement reached between the European Parliament and Council in late 2022 needs to be formally adopted before the Regulation can enter into force:

  • 18/04/2023: Formal adoption by the European Parliament
  • 25/04/2023: Formal adoption by the Council of the European Union
  • 16/05/2023: Publication in the Official Journal of the European Union
  • 05/06/2023: Entry into force

By 31 July 2026, the European Commission is required to submit a report to the Parliament and the Council on the possibility of integrating negative emissions technologies (NETs) into the EU ETS. This should explore how emissions removed from the atmosphere through methods such as direct air capture can be safely and permanently stored, and how these negative emissions can be accounted for and covered by emissions trading without compromising necessary progress in reducing emissions.

By 31 July 2026, the Commission will have to assess and report on the possibility of including the municipal waste incineration sector in the ETS with a view to including it from 2028.

Deep Dive

Update to the ETS

The ETS was revised as part of the Commission’s ‘Fit for 55’ package, which aims to introduce new or improve existing legislative tools for achieving the EU’s target of reducing net GHG emissions by at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. The proposed changes to the ETS include:

  • Increased ambition to reduce emissions by 62% in the sectors covered by the ETS by 2030  and reduction of the cap by 4.3% per year in 2024-2027, and by 4.4% in 2028-2030.
  • End of free allowances for sectors covered by the Carbon Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) in 2026-2034.
  • Phase-out of free emissions allowances for aviation (25% in 2024, 50% in 2025 and 100% from 2026).
  • Inclusion of maritime shipping in the ETS.
  • Creation of a separate ETS for the building and road transport sectors, applying to the distributors that supply fuels for combustion. A new Social Climate Fund will direct part of the revenue from the auctioning to support vulnerable households and micro-enterprises.
  • Increase in the Modernisation Fund and Innovation Fund.
  • Strengthening the market stability reserve (MSR), the mechanism to help prevent excessive carbon price fluctuations.

Support for CDR through the Innovation Fund

Although the EU ETS is designed to incentivise emissions reductions as opposed to carbon removals, money raised through auctions of emission allowances under the ETS are reinvested into the EU’s Innovation Fund, which provides a source of funding support for technology-based CDR methods among other low-carbon technologies.

For more information on the link between CDR and the Innovation Fund, see here.

Should carbon removal be integrated into the EU ETS?

The inclusion of carbon removal (with permanent storage of captured carbon) in the EU ETS is subject to a nascent and growing debate in the EU policy ecosystem, in anticipation of the announced Commission report. Integrating negative emissions into the ETS would allow participants to offset a portion of their emissions by purchasing carbon removal credits. This, in turn, could create a potential long-term market for CDR.

Including removals in the EU ETS could have a number of benefits. As the ETS allowance cap is steadily reduced over time, integrating negative emissions would create additional market liquidity and decarbonisation options for hard-to-abate sectors. It would therefore help to satisfy demand for removal credits or allowances from hard-to-decarbonise sectors like aviation and would allow for carbon removal credits to be easily integrated into existing market infrastructure and trading platforms.

Carbon removal project developers and investors would gain greater confidence that there will be sustainable long-term demand for carbon removal credits. It would also allow removal projects to benefit from the carbon price. However, the price differential between the cost of CDR and the EU ETS carbon price will be a key consideration. The EU ETS would only incentivise CDR solutions within a certain range of the ETS price. This could be sufficient for some approaches such as BECCS (cost at scale  USD 15 – 400/tCO2) and waste-to-energy with CCS, but additional incentives would be needed for direct air capture given its higher price point (cost at scale USD 100 – 300/tCO2) – although this is expected to change as technologies improve and costs of different methods decrease. Complementary incentive mechanisms such as Carbon Contracts for Difference (CCfDs) could bridge the gap between the actual cost of certain CDR methods and the EU ETS carbon price to drive the investment needed. The Commission is considering CCfDs as part of the overall agreement on the revision of the ETS Directive.

However, it is imperative that the potential inclusion of carbon removal credits in the EU ETS does not undermine the incentive for emitters covered by the ETS to decarbonise, or the urgency with which they should do so. One option to address this risk would be to limit access or quantities of removals to specific sectors that are harder to decarbonise and more likely to have residual emissions.

Another important consideration is the impact that any inclusion of CDR in the EU ETS would have on the integrity of the market. Developing robust monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) standards would safeguard the integrity of the ETS. The introduction of these standards is underway under the EU’s CRCF legislation.

An alternative approach might be establishing a separate, regulated negative emissions market. This separate market could later be linked with the EU ETS after the differential between CDR and ETS prices has been reduced and CDR technologies have a demonstrated track record at scale.

The EU ETS & other markets

The EU ETS was the world’s first international emissions trading system when it was set up in 2005. It has since inspired the development of emissions trading in other countries and regions, including most recently the UK and China. The potential role of the UK ETS as a market for CDR was signalled in July 2023, when the UK Government stated its intention to include Greenhouse Gas Removals (GGRs) in the UK ETS, subject to further consultation, a robust MRV regime being in place and the management of wider impacts. In 2017, the EU and Switzerland signed an agreement to link their emissions trading systems. The agreement entered into force on 1 January 2020, and the link became operational in September 2020.

Timeline

27 October 2004
ETS Phase 1 (2005-2007)
ETS Phase 2 (2008-2012)
ETS Phase 3 (2013-2020)
ETS Phase 4 (2021-2030)
14 July 2021
18 December 2022
2026
27 October 2004

Entry into force of Directive 2004/101/EC establishing a scheme for GHG emission allowance trading

ETS Phase 1 (2005-2007)

The cap is set based on estimates. The majority of allowances are given for free, and ETS covers CO2 emissions from power generators and energy-intensive industries.

ETS Phase 2 (2008-2012)

The cap is lowered around 6.5% in comparison to 2005, based on actual emissions. Around 90% of the allocations are given for free, and auctions are held. N₂O emissions are included by certain countries. The aviation sector is included in 2012.

ETS Phase 3 (2013-2020)

National caps are traded with a EU-wide cap. Default auctioning method replaces the free allocation system, and the scope is expanded to include more sectors and gases.

ETS Phase 4 (2021-2030)

Current trading phase

14 July 2021

Proposal for a revision of the EU ETS released as a part of the Fit for 55 package

18 December 2022

Provisional agreement between co-legislators on the revision of the EU ETS

2026

Commission’s report on the inclusion of negative emissions in the ETS expected

Further reading

Status

Unofficial Title

EU ETS

Year

2022

Official Document

Last Updated

24/04/2023