The European Union’s (E.U.) executive branch has proposed the bloc should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, a measure some scientists say needs to be adopted worldwide in order to avoid catastrophic global warming. The European Commission is the first major economy to set its sights on achieving climate neutrality in the next three decades. However, its plan, announced days before a global climate summit being held in Poland, is far more ambitious than the national targets set or even closely achieved to date by many of the E.U.’s twenty-eight-member nations.
The Commission cites scientists who say ending the use of fossil fuels, a process known as decarbonization, is one of the most important measures needed to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Net zero emissions mean that any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest growth or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.
The Commission’s proposal, which was welcomed by environmental groups, isn’t binding, and adds pressure on E.U. nations that have resisted setting tighter goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is expected to miss its goals for 2020 and Chancellor Angela Merkel has objected to raising the nation’s emissions reduction target for 2030 from 40 percent to 45 percent.
Symbolically, the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine in Poland that was closed in 1999 after 176 years of coal production. World leaders are gathering to agree on the fine print at the climate summit, held between December 2 and 14, three years after the global climate deal in Paris. “Looking from the outside perspective, it’s an impossible task,” said Poland’s deputy Environment Minister, Michal Kurtyka.
Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world, and reveal what they are doing to reduce them. Many participants believe the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. However, the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets, and most nations are far off the mark from their targets.
Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 will entail a transformation of all sectors of each nation’s economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel. Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, claiming they are responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is factually inaccurate, as developing nations are the greatest polluters without rigorous environmental regulations. Rich countries say they are willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.
The United States (U.S.) under President Donald Trump recently withdrew from the Paris agreement, signed up former President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia appear to be heading in the same direction.