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EU leaders’ 2030 target deal ignores Europe’s climate responsibility

BRUSSELS 11 December 2020. EU leaders have agreed a net 55% emissions reduction goal for 2030. While this replaces the outdated 40% goal, the target is not in line with the Paris Agreement[1] and Europe’s historic responsibility to cut emissions. Relying on forests and land to reach the target also means that in reality, EU countries will reduce their CO2 pollution only around 51-53%[2].

Today, the EU heads of state or government agreed a ”at least 55%” net climate target for 2030. The new target is an improvement but falls short of a 65% goal which would correspond to Europe’s fair share of global climate action to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. 

Furthermore, unlike the previous 40% target, the new target allows the inclusion of CO2 removals from the land-use sector (like forests, croplands and grasslands). This means that EU countries need to make less climate efforts in heavily polluting sectors such as transport where emissions are on the rise. 

The European Parliament earlier this year voted for a 60% reduction goal and explicitly rejected the idea of combining emission reductions and carbon removals in one target.

Sam Van den plas at Carbon Market Watch said:

It’s a relief to see the old 40% target finally abandoned, but today’s agreement is not in line with Europe’s global climate responsibilities. The key here is the “at least”; the 55% is a starting point. As the EU climate and energy laws are revised from next year, we will need to make sure that they deliver emissions reductions in line with science and fairness. 

Mixing carbon sinks and emission reductions is an irresponsible accounting trick and undermines the deal’s credibility. The point of climate targets is to send a clear signal on the urgency and importance of cutting carbon pollution to avoid a climate breakdown. This must remain separate from protecting forests and land so that they continue to be healthy and absorb and store carbon.”  

According to media reports, the all-night talks dragged on over the role of the Modernisation Fund, which is funded by auctioning allowances from the EU carbon market (EU ETS) and will help lower-income EU countries clean up their power sector. When the agreement was struck this morning, the price of ETS carbon allowances rose to an all-time high above 31€/ton CO2. 

Sam Van den plas:

 “It’s clever to raise revenues from pricing carbon pollution and reinvest these into climate action. The EU carbon market’s Modernisation Fund has the potential to do this, but it will need to focus on clean solutions to support a transition to a fully renewable energy future in lower income member states. And let’s not forget that a lot more climate funding will be available to all EU countries when they decide to stop handing out free pollution permits under the carbon pricing scheme.”

The higher 2030 target is part of the EU climate law which makes the 2050 climate neutrality target legally binding. European Parliament, Commission and EU governments will next start their tri-partite negotiations to reach a final agreement on the law. 



Sam Van den plas, Policy Director
+32 485 95 22 01
[email protected]

Kaisa Amaral, Communications Director
+32 485 07 68 90
[email protected]

Notes to editors:

[1] According to the United Nations’ Emissions Gap Report at global level annual emission reductions of 7.6% between now and 2030 will be needed to reach the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. Applying this reduction pace would require the EU to increase its 2030 target to at least 65%.

[2] Presently, the land-use sector removes more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than it emits. Making this a part of the target reduces how much sectors such as transport and heavy industry must cut CO2 pollution. The European Commission estimates that the overall net sink in the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector could by 2030 decline to 225 MtCO2 or increase to 340 MtCO2 (see page 61 of the Staff Working Document accompanying the Commission proposal). The net emission reduction target is, therefore, lower and could be something between 50.5-52.8%.


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