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Over 100 organisations and scientists demand separation of EU’s 2040 climate targets

The European Commission has received an open letter signed by 110 academics, businesses, civil society organisations and research institutions urging the EU to separate emissions reductions, land-based sequestration and permanent carbon removals in the EU’s post-2030 climate framework. This separation should be at the heart of both the setting and the implementation of the 2040 target and associated plans.

EU climate targets for 2030 (reducing net emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels) are misleading because when carbon sinks are removed, the target drops to a reduction of as low as 52%. European Commissioner for Climate Action, Wopke Hoekstra, has publicly supported a ‘net 90%’ target, but there is a real risk the “net” camouflages low ambition.

Climate NGO Carbon Market Watch (CMW) is leading calls for an urgent rethink and fresh approach, organising an open letter that calls on the European Commission to set explicit and separate targets and policies for emissions reductions, carbon sequestration in the land sector and permanent removals when establishing the EU’s vital 2040 climate targets. 

The Commission is expected to release its Communication for the 2040 EU climate target and an accompanying impact assessment on 6 February 2024. The letter will remain open for additional signatories until the political process on the 2040 target is finalised.

Clear pathways

The many and varied supporting stakeholders include 39 academics, 34 NGOs, 29 progressive companies and business associations, and eight research institutions, research consortia or think tanks. They are all convinced that the introduction of separate targets for emissions reductions, permanent carbon removals and sequestration in the land sector will lead to clearer governance and create certainty for high-quality project developers. This is clearly a widely supported principle, as reflected in the number and variety of signatories to the letter. It is also highlighted by the fact that 70% of civil society organisations and academic or research institutes responding to the European Commission’s public consultation on the EU climate target for 2040 (and 54% of all respondents) supported the introduction of three separate targets. 

The current net approach for 2030 risks slowing down urgently needed emission reduction efforts and expanding the overdependence on sequestration in soils or forests, or on (new) technologies aiming at permanent storage of carbon to solve the climate crisis. “This time round the EU has to get it right. Separate targets are key to the EU realising its climate responsibilities,” explained CMW carbon removals expert Fabiola De Simone. “With this approach the EU can become a global climate leader inspiring other countries to show similar climate ambition.”

“Overreliance on any and all types of carbon storage or sequestration is a real and present risk that must be avoided at all cost in the EUs climate policy framework. Emission cuts must not be replaced by planting trees or permanent removals. Separating targets and policies enables the EU to work on urgently cutting climate destroying pollution, protecting and restoring ecosystems, and understanding and scaling up sustainable permanent removals,” echoes Wijnand Stoefs, CMW’s lead expert on carbon removals “The EU needs to work on all three, rather than either/or.”

The letter calls on the European Commission to place the principle of three distinct targets at the heart of its upcoming Communication on the EU climate target for 2040 and its accompanying impact assessment. Furthermore, the Commission should uphold the separation approach in subsequent proposals surrounding the setting and implementation of the 2040 target, and the updated EU nationally determined contribution of the EU and its member states.

Building confidence

For direct air capture network DAC coalition, the venture is an opportunity to improve understanding of carbon removals technologies and to boost investor and developer confidence.

“The EU should be looking to raise policy ambition and go beyond just separating emission reductions and carbon removal targets and look to elevate the proper understanding of the roles and use-cases for different forms of removal,” said Aaron Benjamin, UK and Europe lead of DAC Coalition. 

“Having distinct targets for permanent carbon removal, like direct air capture, will not only reflect its use in counterbalancing hard-to-abate residual emissions but also have the dual benefit of driving investor and developer confidence in the EU, helping to unlock much-needed finance beyond venture capital.”


Lead author of ‘Beyond “net-zero”: A case for separate targets for emissions reduction and negative emissions’ and postdoctoral climate intervention fellow in environmental law and policy at the Emmett Institute, UCLA School of Law, Duncan McLaren believes that separate targets will lead to greater public accountability of policymakers.

“My research with carbon removal stakeholders has consistently highlighted the need for separate targets – not only do they allow publics to hold policymakers to account for their climate policies, separate targets create a framework in which sustainable and just carbon removal can be supported without undermining other urgent and essential efforts to cut emissions and phase out fossil fuels,” he said. 

“The enthusiasm with which oil companies and petro-states are embracing carbon removal as a smokescreen for continued fossil-fuel exploitation is a salutary warning that such dangers are real and present.” 

Next steps

The letter is part of a broader effort to co-design policy proposals that maximise the benefits of sustainable carbon removals and slash emissions in the European Union.  In the coming months, Carbon Market Watch will bring together scientists, civil society organisations and progressive industries to work on the CO2olDown project.  

“There is an urgent need for concerned stakeholders to forge a common vision for carbon removals in the EU,” explains Fabiola De Simone. “It is vitally important to build consensus around a science-based position. By reaching out to the world of business and academia we not only have strength in numbers but a broad coalition to find agreement together on what the future of EU climate policy should look like.”

Members of the CO2olDown will meet together in the coming weeks to flesh out the details, striving to co-create policy proposals that maximise the benefits of removals while keeping the bloc’s ambition to slash emissions safe.

NOTE – The number of signatories was updated on 23 January 2024


  • Gavin Mair

    Gavin is a member of the communications team. He formerly supported the work of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, and held responsibility for media output and office management for two MEPs prior to Brexit. He is an experienced campaigner, relishing the challenge of communicating for causes that have a social and environmental impact and is motivated by CMW’s mission of holding businesses and governments to account as they move towards essential environmental ambitions and transitions. When not fighting the good fight Gavin can typically be found enjoying live music or attending to his houseplants.

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