Brussels - The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal that the EU reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, signalling a more ambitious climate agenda.
Climate neutrality by 2050
The non-binding paper came out just days before the COP24 conference starts Sunday in Katowice, Poland, where countries are set to negotiate the rules and financing for implementing the 2015 Paris agreement.
The commission's paper calls for the European Union to go further than existing targets if it wants to meet the long-term goals of the agreement.
Rather than cut emissions by 40 per cent in 2030 compared to 1990, the bloc should reduce them by 45 per cent, as part of the long-term drop needed to achieve "climate neutrality" by 2050, the paper said.
EU Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete and the commission's vice president for energy, Maros Sefcovic, called for action as they presented the report.
"We have all seen – not later than this summer - that the implications of not getting climate change under control are profound and costly," said Canete, referencing the extreme heat, drought, and flooding that recently hit parts of Europe.
"We cannot afford the price of inaction," he added.
The paper makes a series of recommendations - including upgrading housing stock, expanding the renewable energy sector, boosting electrification to move away from carbon fuels and developing clean transit networks - to diminish the carbon footprint.
It also calls for increasing the EU's "carbon sinks," namely forests that can absorb carbon dioxide, as well as making agriculture more sustainable.
The report estimates that all these changes will require investments of 175 billion to 290 billion euros (198 billion and 328 billion dollars) annually. However, it argues these costs will be offset through savings from reduced healthcare costs and lower energy imports.
Long-term strategies needed
The EU, which spends around 266 billion euros on energy imports a year, will save between 2 and 3 trillion euros by 2050 through this strategy via import savings, the report estimates.
While most of this new investment should come from the private sector, the EU institutions and member state governments will provide "signals" and the "long-term strategies," said Canete.
This public support can take many forms, from state aid to research in green technologies to taxation, said Cefkovic.
Environmental action groups issued qualified support for the commission report.
"By opting for net zero emissions by 2050, the EU will be better equipped to prevent the climate catastrophe," said Wendel Trio of Climate Action Network Europe. "But this commitment alone would not be enough to pull us back from the brink of the climate breakdown."
"With this strategy the EU becomes the first major player to respond to the recent stark warnings from climate scientists and to take action to implement the Paris Agreement," said Imke Luebbeke of the World Wildlife Fund's European Policy Office. "However, we need to reach zero net emissions faster - by 2040."
The EU contributes about 10 per cent of greenhouse gases, while China and the United States are the top two. However, the United States has pulled out of the Paris Agreement under President Donald Trump.
Recent United Nations assessments have suggested the Paris targets might not be enough.
On Tuesday, the UN Environment Programme warned that current national commitments on Paris would in fact lead to a warming of 3 degrees by 2100, with warming continuing after that. It found global emissions of greenhouse gases rose in 2017, after three years of stability.
Meanwhile, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said drastic steps are needed now to limit the further temperature increase to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, as the Paris Agreement calls for.