Towards a Green Deal 2.0: EU targets for 2040 emissions reduction misfire

7 February 2024

To boost the EU’s legally binding climate neutrality aspirations, the European Commission yesterday recommended a 90% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, compared to 1990 levels.

The detailed impact assessment, which accompanies the Communication, seeks to set out a predictable and sustainable pathway towards decarbonisation, reassuring in particular both industry and the agricultural sector that the climate transition will not disproportionally and unfairly impact their activities.

In his address, European Commissioner Hoekstra was keen to present the Communication as the opening salvo of a dialogue; no doubt hastened by recent protests across Europe. And by underscoring Europe’s planned trajectory, as a touchpoint between already agreed 2030 and 2050 milestones, the hope is to make clear what investment commitments will be necessary to decarbonise European industry and energy systems, while also boosting Europe’s resilience – for example to future energy price fluctuations.

As clearly indicated in Eurocities European elections manifesto, A better Europe starts in Cities, an ambitious net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a key action demanded by cities across Europe.

“A 90% net reduction target for 2040 is the only way to go if we are serious about achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050. Europe is, and must remain, a beacon globally that leads the way,” commented André Sobczak, Secretary General, Eurocities.

However, he also pointed out that it will be incumbent upon the next EU policy makers, following the European elections in June, and new appointments in the European Commission, to “swiftly agree on the 90% net reduction target and accompany it with new tools, measures and financing to implement locally a climate-neutral and just transition.”

More clarity needed

Of course, achieving the 2040 climate targets means fully implementing all existing legislation for the EU to first reach its 2030 goals of a 55% net emissions reduction, based on 1990 levels, which should be one of the main goals of the European Commission’s next five-year term. And a task easier said than done.

At city level, mayors have committed to the European Green Deal since day one, and have always emphasised the centrality of people in the transition. The challenges, however, are myriad.

As Sobczak states, “in order to not leave anyone behind, bring together rural and urban areas, and ensure people have equal access to clean energy solutions and good jobs, cities are determined to continue to decarbonise our food, building and transport sectors, while setting up new pathways to address consumption-based emissions and other areas.”

With this in mind, Louise Coffineau, Senior Policy Advisor on Environment at Eurocities, points outs that the Commission’s current Communication lacks clear proposals, and cities would still like to see:

  • Policies and measures to address employment and the social and distributional impacts of the EU 2040 target, to ensure a just transition, protecting the poorest and most vulnerable population groups;
  • Targeted action to address current investment gaps to achieve the 2040 target, such as redefining the EU’s budgetary rules for greater flexibility on long-term investments and providing de-risking solutions to finance higher risk technologies to develop the market;
  • A focus shift from a fuel-based approach only to multi-modal transport with rail and active mobility;
  • Recognition of the role of nature and biodiversity in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change, and of the importance of the Nature Restoration Law in restoring our ecosystems as a key pillar in achieving the EU climate objectives and ensuring liveable cities.

Narrative over substantive change

In particular, the overt focus on industry and agriculture leaves little room for a clear focus on people and nature, and changes the narrative of the original European Green Deal, which was far more focussed on people and planet, accompanied by legislation on zero pollution and the now ignored Nature Restoration Law.

As Coffineau points out, “the impact assessment lacks a clear understanding of the social impact of the 2040 targets, and offers precious little space to find solutions to clear concerns we should all be having, such as how to shift to cleaner transport solutions and healthier affordable food. In essence, besides the new target, and figures around carbon removals, this new Communication does not offer any new tools to achieve these goals.”

Given that cities themselves are sites of large emissions, and must be one of the major players in all climate mitigation efforts, the text lacks proposals that would, for instance, give people access to clean energy in their home, provide good and energy efficient home renovation solutions, or show how the net-zero transition of the industrial sector will deliver green and quality jobs at the local level.

One proposal in Eurocities A better Europe Starts in Cities elections manifesto includes a role for the EU in fostering partnerships between local authorities and industry to successfully implement a Green Deal Industrial Plan that delivers benefits for people through jobs and skills.

Finally, the work on climate mitigation should acknowledge that 53% of total EU emissions are generated outside Europe. “We need transparent and consistent targets to reduce consumption-based emissions, and a robust methodology to calculate them,” concludes Coffineau.

Read Eurocities policy statement ‘Delivering the inclusive climate transition‘.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer