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A shortcut to clean energy

A new EU plan to meet climate change targets ahead of time.

by Amanda Saint
14 October 2020
6 min read
byAmanda Saint
14 October 2020
6 min read

The EU's Climate Action Network has released an accelerated plan that would meet the 2050 clean energy targets outlined in the Paris Agreement a decade early. If the plan is achieved, it means the continent could be completely powered by clean energy by 2040. Developed with civil society organisations in cooperation with energy grid operators, industry representatives, economists, and researchers, the report, entitled Building a Paris Agreement Compatible (PAC) energy scenario,also reveals that the EU could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030.

That would put it ahead of the current target of 40%. Despite Brexit, the UK is included the report, and if the recommendations in the report are implemented, the authors say the EU and Great Britain could develop an energy landscape in line with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. The report's recommendations may also form a basis for the EU's plans for a green recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

How energy demand is going to change

Projections about the amount of energy demand the continent will see over the next 20 years are a key element of the report, as is the message that increasing energy efficiency of homes, public buildings, industries, businesses and transport is the major step that can deliver a big impact. With the development of circular economies, the world will see more reductions in raw material use and an increase recycling and refurbishing of consumer products. The energy savings that could be delivered by these steps is significant, and the report indicates energy demand might be halved through: renovating old buildings so they are better insulated, increasing energy efficiency of public transport, updating out-dated industrial machinery and processes, ensuring consumer products are longer-lasting and use less energy both in the manufacturing stages and when they are in use.

Coal makes room for renewables

In order to deliver the shortcut to clean energy, the report has calculated the use of coal for energy production must be completely eradicated by 2030. Fossil gas will need to be gone by 2035 and oil by 2040. It also recommends an end to the investment in nuclear power, as well as its complete phasing out by 2040 too. The reasons: increasing costs of maintenance, the fuel chain and decommissioning. In order to achieve these phase-outs, the continent needs to triple its renewable energy over the next decade, which would mean that more than 50% of final energy consumption would be coming from renewable sources by 2030. This would then need to increase to 100% by 2040 in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 65%.

Nuclear power will also have to give way to renewables

Reducing emissions, an achievable goal

The steps laid out in the report to improve energy efficiency and move the energy mix away from fossil fuels to renewables would see energy-related CO2 emissions decrease from 4,124 Mt CO2 levels in 1990 to 997 Mt CO2 in 2030, and then reach zero in 2040. This is a 76% reduction in carbon emissions. If other greenhouse gas emissions from energy as well as the non-energy related emissions were to reduce at the same rate, the EU would then see total greenhouse gas emissions decrease from 5,650 Mt CO2eq in 1990 to ca. 1,367 Mt CO2eq in 2030. The report also revealed that to achieve a 65% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the non-CO2 emissions and non-energy related emissions combined would need to be reduced by 36%. Taking into account the current trends in emissions reductions, the authors believe this an easily achievable goal.

Future transport to become more and more sustainable

Delivering the transformation of the transport sector is going to be one of the biggest challenges to achieving the report's goals. Fossil fuel-powered road vehicles would have to be completely phased out by 2040, meaning all cars, buses, vans, motorbikes and freight vehicles would need to be electrified within the next 20 years. Any vehicles with an internal combustion engine sold after 2020 will need to have a limited lifetime in order to reach a fossil-free fleet by 2040.

In order for the transport sector to achieve its goals, the provisions proposed in the report must be satisfied: private cars will be fully electrified by 2040. Road freight will also be covered in priority by electrification (either through batteries, highways with overhead catenary lines or by switching to electrified rail), then by renewable hydrogen for heavy duty freight vehicles. Shipping will be covered by electricity for short distance, a mix of electricity and renewable hydrogen for mid-distance (intra-EU), and a mix of renewable hydrogen and ammonia for long-distance. Rail networks will be completely electrified and aviation will be mostly covered by liquid synthetic fuels and marginally by second-generation biofuels, until the wider deployment of electric aircrafts post-2040.

Key points to achieve a global breakthrough

The key elements of the report's recommendations are ones that could be easily adopted in other countries in order to help achieve the Paris Agreement's goal worldwide. They are mobilising energy savings potential by accelerating deep renovation of buildings and a modernisation of industrial production processes. The measures being implemented include: increasing domestic renewable energy use and quickly phasing out fossil fuels, electrifying industrial processes, heating and transport, based on renewable electricity and making heat pumps and electric vehicles the key technologies that will progressively dominate buildings and roads in the 2030s.

The technologies and knowledge are in place for this to be achieved in all countries; all that is needed to achieve global adoption of these measures is the commitment of governments, industries and global finance.