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Can the EU become carbon neutral by 2050? A new strategy from the EU!

Can the EU become carbon neutral by 2050? A new strategy from the EU!

On Wednesday 28 November 2018, the European Commission adopted a strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy (net-zero emissions) by 2050!  A Clean Planet for All, tactically released ahead of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP 24), which will be hosted in Katowice, Poland from 2-14 December, describes seven overarching areas that require action and eight different scenarios that allow the EU to significantly reduce emissions.

The EU is currently responsible for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is looking to become a world leader in the transition towards climate neutrality – a state where the amount of emissions produced is equal to that sequestered [1]. A Clean Planet for All highlights how the EU can reduce its emissions and, in two of the eight scenarios outlined, have a climate neutral economy by 2050.

A Clean Planet for All is a leap toward a climate neutral economy but it does not intend to launch new policies, nor alter the 2030 climate & energy framework and targets that are already in place. Instead, it will use these targets as a baseline while simultaneously setting the direction of EU policies so that they align with the Paris Agreement’s temperature objectives, help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and improve the EU’s long-term prosperity and health.

What role did science play in the Clean Planet for All strategy?

Reports generated using climate research, such as the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC, have been catalysts in national climate strategies and policies around the world. This is holds true for the EU’s A Clean Planet for All which features quotes and statistics from the IPCC’s 1.5ºC Report.

International treaties and targets set by organisations such as the United Nations also put pressure on national and regional governments to act and implement their own polices to reduce emissions. Many of these treaties and global targets are based on scientific reports that describe the current state of the world and give projections based on future scenarios. One of the most noteworthy examples of a global treaty is the Paris Agreement which was ratified by 181 counties in 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals are an example of global targets created using a breadth of scientific studies and that are a major consideration when national and local governments are creating policy.

More directly, A Clean Planet for All’s eight different scenarios and their likely outcomes required a huge amount of research and calculations – these scenarios are outlined in more detail below. External scientific input was also employed with scientists and other stakeholders given the opportunity to contribute to the proposal. An EU Public Consultation was open from 17 July until 9 October 2018 and received over 2800 responses. There was also a stakeholder event on 10-11 July 2018 that brought together stakeholders from research, business and the public to discuss the issues with the upcoming strategy.

The 7 strategic building block for a climate neutral economy

A Clean Planet for All outlines seven building blocks that will enable Europe to reduce emissions and build a climate neutral economy.

  1. Energy efficiency
  2. Renewable energy
  3. Clean, safe and connected mobility
  4. Competitive industry and circular economy
  5. Infrastructure and interconnections
  6. Bio-economy and natural carbon sinks
  7. Carbon capture and storage

Figure 1: Achieving a climate neutral economy will require changes in all sectors. Source: EU Commission [3]

Scenarios toward climate neutrality

The Clean Planet for All strategy describes eight different scenarios or pathways that range from an 80% cut in emissions to net-zero emissions by 2050 (see Figure 2 below). Regardless of the scenario chosen, the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, emphasised that the structure of the strategy will give member states a certain amount of flexibility to follow different paths. The eight options outlined in the strategy are “what if-scenarios”. They highlight what is likely to happen with a given combination of technologies and actions. While all eight scenarios will enable the EU to reduce emissions, only the last two (shown in the figure below) provide Europe with the opportunity to build a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

The first five scenarios all focus on initiatives which foster a transition towards a climate neutral economy with the extent that electrification, hydrogen, e-fuels and energy efficiency is implemented and the role that the circular economy will play, being the variable. The anticipated electricity consumption required in 2050 also differs depending on the option selected. The energy efficiency and circular economy options have a greater focus on reducing the energy demand rather than developing new sources of clean energy and therefore require the lowest increase in electricity generation (approximately 35% more by 2050 compared with today). Despite the differences, the first five scenarios will all only achieve 80 – 85% emission reductions by 2050 compared with 1990, 15% short of a climate neutral economy.

The sixth scenario combines the first five options but at lower levels and reaches an emissions reduction of up to 90%. The seventh and eighth scenarios are the only ones that could lead to net-zero emissions by 2050. The seventh option combines the first four options and negative emissions technology such as carbon capture and storage. The eighth scenario builds on the seventh with an additional focus on circular economy, encouraging less carbon intensive consumer choices and strengthened carbon sinks via land use changes.

Figure 2: Overview of A Clean Planet for All’s 8 different scenarios to a climate neutral economy [3]

What about the economic cost?

The EU has allocated approximately 20% of its overall 2014-2020 budget (over €206 billion) to climate change-related action. This covers areas such as research and innovation, energy efficiency, public transport, renewable energy, network infrastructure, just to name a few. To achieve a climate neutral economy by 2050, the EU has proposed to raise the share spent on climate-related action to 25% (€320 billion) for the 2021-2027 period.

This is a significant increase but it’s also a smart investment! Not only will it help the EU reach net-emissions but it’s also expected to lower energy bills, increase competitiveness and stimulate economic growth with an estimated GDP increase of up to 2% by 2050. It will also help to reduce the financial impacts of climate change such as damages from increased flooding, heatwaves and droughts. According to a study published in 2018 by the Joint Research Centre, 3ºC of warming (likely in a business-as-usual scenario), would cut Europe’s GDP by at least €240 billion annually by the end of the century. That estimate drops to €79 billion with 2ºC of warming.

Fighting for a climate neutral economy is is expected to have a net-positive impact on employment but of course, some sectors and regions will see job losses. However, the EU has already outlined programmes to manage this issue, such as the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), and the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF). As Miguel Arias Cañete (Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy), states:

“Going climate neutral is necessary, possible and in Europe’s interest.”

What are the next steps?

The strategy and scenarios will be discussed at COP24 and may even provide inspiration for other countries to implement similar strategies. You can keep an eye on COP24 developments by streaming sessions via the UNFCCC live webcast and by using #COP24 on social media.

Although already adopted by the European Commission, A Clean Planet for All still needs input and approval from the European Council, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. According to the Paris Agreement, all 181 nations must submit their 2030 emissions targets by 2020 so it’s likely that comments from these committees will come in early 2019.

It’s likely that there will also be a number of stakeholder events in 2019, such as Citizens Dialogues that give scientists, businesses, non-governmental organisations and the public the opportunity to share their thoughts and be involved in the process. The EGU will provide updates on relevant opportunities as they arise. To receive these updates you can join the EGU’s database of expertise!

References and further reading

[1] A Clean Planet for all. A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy

[2] Questions and Answers: Long term strategy for Clean Planet for All 

[3] In-Depth Analysis in Support of The Commission Communication Com(2018) 773

New EU plan comes out fighting for ‘climate neutrality’ by 2050

Factsheet on the Long Term Strategy Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction

10 countries demand net-zero emission goal in new EU climate strategy

GeoPolicy: How do Members of European Parliament learn about science?

GeoPolicy: How do Members of European Parliament learn about science?

Only ~5% of Members of European Parliament, or MEPs, have a background in the physical sciences1, yet many political challenges require an understanding of the science surrounding these issues. Issues such as locating and extracting mineral resources, understanding climate change impacts, and developing new low-carbon technology. The European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP) have structures in place to ensure drafted policy can be supported using scientific evidence. This GeoPolicy post takes a closer look at how the EP gathers and requests scientific evidence.

 

The EC and the EP have different mechanisms to ensure policy workers and MEPs are briefed on scientific material. The EC conducts in-house scientific research within the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and has recently constructed the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) to ensure that the latest academic research is heard. This post focuses on how science supports the EP as last month’s GeoPolicy post discussed SAM in more detail.

There are 751 MEPs (including the UK) within the EP. All MEPs are required to sit on at least one of the 20 committees that focus on a particular area of governance. Each committee is responsible for assessing legislation proposals and negotiating edits to legislation with the Council of the EU. Additionally, they can organise meetings with experts and commission internal reports that focus on their relevant policy areas. A full list of the EP committees is shown below.

 

EP Committees
AFET Foreign Affairs EMPL Employment and Social Affairs CULT Culture and Education
DROI Human Rights ENVI Environment, Public Health and Food Safety JURI Legal Affairs
SEDE Security and Defence ITRE Industry, Research and Energy LIBE Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
DEVE Development IMCO Internal Market and Consumer Protection AFCO Constitutional Affairs
INTA International Trade TRAN Transport and Tourism FEMM Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
BUDG Budgets REGI Regional Development PETI Petitions
CONT Budgetary Control AGRI Agriculture and Rural Development
ECON Economic and Monetary Affairs PECH Fisheries
 Special committees
TAX2 Tax Rulings and Other Measures Similar in Nature or Effect (TAXE 2)
 Committees of inquiry
EMIS Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector

PANA Money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion

 

 

The European Parliament Research Service (EPRS)

The EPRS is the in-house research centre for the European Parliament (not to be confused with the JRC who are the in-house research service for the European Commission).  If science communication within the EP were a concert taking place in a park, the EPRS is the gazebo in which the band is playing. They operate as the main provider of science to the EP; usually carrying out secondary research or commissioning primary research in response to requests made by MEPs, committees or other EP bodies. They also carry out joint projects with the JRC for example the Science Meets Parliaments scheme (see below).

Many of their subsequent reports and resources are available online for the general public to read. Additionally, they have an active blog in which they post a variety of different types of articles3. These include updates on ongoing legislation being drafted by the EU, information briefings about a science policy topic, more in-depth analyses, infographics, and factsheets.

An infographic showing the continental contributions of historical CO2 emissions available on the EPRS Graphics Warehouse webpages. )

An infographic showing the continental contributions of historical CO2 emissions available on the EPRS Graphics Warehouse webpages.

 

Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA)

MEP committee representatives can sit on cross-committee panels, which look at interdisciplinary topics. The Science and Technology Options Assessment, or STOA, is a cross-committee panel that focuses on providing Parliament’s Committees and other parliamentary bodies with independent and impartial scientific advice for science-related issues. The panel was established in 1987 and is made up of 23 MEPs that span eight permanent Committees of the Parliament: AGRI, CULT, EMPL, ENVI, IMCO, ITRE, JURI and TRAN. STOA also employs secretariat staff to help with projects and events2.

STOA (who meet monthly) have budget to fund research projects totalling 650,000 euros per year. Together with the EPRS they fund more substantial projects to provide scientific evidence for topics of policy-relevance. A study can have a maximum amount of 100,000 euros funding.

STOA work very closely with the EPRS. Together, the types of projects conducted are:

  • Impact Assessments. These usually have a timeframe of <1 year and a resulting report is written for the requesting committee.
  • Technology Assessments have a shorter time frame. The usual result is a short report summarising the current state of affairs for a specific topic.
  • Scientific Foresight Unit carries out projects that look at 30-50 years into the future. Activities include horizon scanning, scenario building, and legislative back-casting (to accomplish an end goal, i.e. 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, what legislature is needed in the near future to achieve this).
  • Short written documents include “awareness documents” and “What If” documents, which are all available on the EPRS blog.
  • The Scientists-MEPs pairing scheme entitled Science Meets Parliaments, which is co-organised by the Joint Research Centre. This year there was over 30 pairs and there are already plans to hold the scheme again in late 2016. A summary of the experience can been found here.
  • Discussion workshops in which external experts can be called into present scientific research on a particular topic. Previous topics have been on volcanic eruptions and mitigation of earthquake effects.

Current projects being conducted focus on ‘future agriculture’ (precision farming), ‘assistive tech for the disabled’, and ‘3D printing and additive manufacturing’. Possible future topics will cover: energy resistance, employments, new technologies, regional policy, and language development within the information era.

 

Sources

1 – http://www.eubusiness.com/Members/michaelterberg/MEPs

2 – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/cms/home/panel

3 – https://epthinktank.eu/about/

 

 

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

Scientific research is usually verbally communicated to policy officials or through purposefully written documents. This occurs at all levels of governance (local, national, and international). This month’s GeoPolicy post takes a look at the main methods in which scientists can assist in the policy process and describes a new method adopted by the European Commission (EC) that aims to enhance science advice to policy.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, science-for-policy communication can be instigated by both scientists and policy officials (not just from the policy end). Scientists are increasingly encouraged to step out of their ‘ivory tower’ and communicate their science to the glittering world of policy. During my PhD, I presented my thesis results to civil servants at the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change. That meeting was a result of me directly contacting the department with a summary of my work. Scientists should not feel afraid to contact relevant policy groups, although this is perhaps easier to do on the local / national scale rather than on the international level.

 

Types of policy engagement

Some of the commonly reported scientific evidence for policy methods are described below:

  1. Surveys: Government organisations may send out targeted or open questionnaires to learn stakeholders’ opinions on certain topics. This method is used for collecting larger sample sizes and when the general consensus and/or dominant views need to be known.
  2. Interviews: one-on-one meetings are commonly used for communicating science to policy officials; either by phone or in person. These provide opportunities for in-depth discussions and explanations.
  3. Discussion workshops: the term ‘workshop’ is loosely used when referring to science policy. It can describe a semi-structured meeting where no predefined agenda has been set, or the term can refer to participants systematically discussing a topic with specific aims to be achieved (Fischer al., 2013). Workshops can involve solely scientists or combine policy workers and scientists (examples of the latter at the UK Centre from Science and Policy). Workshops usually result in a written summary which can be used for policy purposes.
  4. Seminars: experts give talks on their research for interested policy officials to attend and ask questions afterwards. For more tips on ways to communicate science to policy officials please read May’s GeoPolicy post.
  5. Policy briefings: may refer to a several types of written document. They are usually written after a workshop or to summarise scientific literature. Briefings are usually written by so-called bridging organisations, which work at the science-policy interface. These documents can be relatively brief, e.g., the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have published several ‘factsheets’ on different Earth-science topics, or more detailed, e.g., the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) regularly publishes ‘POSTnotes’.
  6. Reports: these are far longer documents which review the current scientific understanding. The IPCC reports are key examples of this, but it should be noted that any long report intended for wider-audiences should always contact a short summary for policymakers as they almost certainly do not possess the time to read full reports.
  7. The Delphi method: this less-commonly known practice combines both individual and group work and is supposed to reduce biases that can occur from open discussion platforms. Experts answer questions posed by policy workers in rounds. In between each round an anonymous summary of the opinions is presented to the participants, who are then asked if their opinions have changed. The resulting decisions can then draft a policy briefing.
  8. Pairing schemes: an alternative method used to bridge the science policy gap. This is a relatively new initiative but examples have occurred on the national (Royal Society and MPs paired together in the UK) and international level (EU MEPs paired with European-based scientists). These schemes involve an introductory event at the place of governance, which include seminars and discussions. Bilateral meetings are then organised at the Scientists’ institutions. These initiatives aim to help participants on both sides appreciate the different working conditions they experience. The EU-wide pairing scheme encourages pairs to work together producing a science policy event at a later date. This is still to be determined as the initial pairing only occurred in January.

 

Recruiting scientists

Different pathways exist for scientists to partake in these meetings. These include:

More commonly, scientists are contacted through the policy organisation’s extended personal network. This has been criticised as it can restrict the breadth of scientific evidence reaching policy, as well as it being not transparent. Under EC President Jean-Claude Junker, a Scientific Advice Mechanism has been defined, in which a more transparent framework for science advice to policy has been set out.

 

What is the Science Advice Mechanism? (SAM)

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

 

This mechanism aims to supply the EC with broad and representative scientific in a structured and transparent manner. The centre-point to this is the formation of a high level scientific group which will work closely with the EC services. This panel comprises seven members “with an outstanding level of expertise and who collectively cover a wide range of scientific fields and expertise relevant for EU policy making”. This panel provides a close working relationship with learned societies and the wider scientific community within the EU. Since its initiation is 2015 the panel has met twice to discuss formalising this mechanism further. The minutes for the meetings are publically available here. More information about SAM is available in the EPRS policy briefing ‘Scientific advice for policy-makers in the European Union’.

Previously, the EU had appointed a Chief Scientific Advisor, however this role was discontinued after 3 years as it was considered too dependent on one individual’s experience. A panel is thought to provide a broader range of scientific advice.