On February 6th, 2024, the European Commission published its recommendation for the 2040 emission reduction targets and the communication on EU Industrial Carbon Management. The Commission has also published a detailed impact assessment on possible pathways to reach climate neutrality by 2050 to inform future legislation.
The Commissions’ recommendations start the process of preparing the 2040 target, launch a broad political debate and a dialogue with stakeholders and citizens on how to reach climate neutrality by 2050.
2040 EU emission reduction targets
Based on the Impact Assessment and the advice of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, the Commission recommends a 90% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 compared to 1990 levels. The 90% target is the necessary mid-step between 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. The target is compatible with the advice from the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change and backed up by a 605-page impact assessment.
According to the proposal, the 90% target will be achieved by a combined effort between emissions reductions, capturing CO2 and carbon dioxide removal (CDR). The EU’s Industrial Carbon Management communication provides details on how the technologies that reduce, capture and remove emissions could contribute to slashing emissions by 90% by 2040 and reaching climate neutrality by 2050.
Carbon industry reactions
The immediate response after the communications were released, was generally positive in both carbon capture and carbon removal circles, especially with the apparent doubling down when it comes to the former.
Eve Tamme, the chair of one of the most impactful industry organizations when it comes to CO2 capture and utilization, the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP) commented on the Industrial Carbon Management Strategy: “ZEP celebrates the release of the long-awaited carbon management strategy. We are pleased to see a list of initiatives to tackle the gaps in the enabling conditions for deploying these technologies. As we move forward, ZEP looks forward to supporting the Commission in the next steps and sharing our insights to create the right conditions for scaling up carbon management technologies in Europe.”
Some reactions on the 2040 emission reduction targets are expressing concerns about the lack of clarity in terms of the finer details of the next steps. According to Lee Beck, Senior Director for Europe and the Middle East at Clean Air Task Force: “The communication signals a strong reaffirmation of climate ambition, yet it lacks technology-inclusive and politically viable action plans that ensure these ambitions are attainable, securing economic and energy stability while achieving emissions reductions.”
Sebastian Mannhart, Senior Policy Advisor at Carbonfuture shared a similar opinion: “A single target for industrial carbon removal, CCS, and LULUCF is confusing and a huge lost opportunity. The science is clear: We need dedicated, separate targets for each of these.”
Carbon to get transport network and become tradable commodity
The EU’s carbon management approach has outlined a CO2 storage capacity goal by 2040 that comes at 280 million tonnes and 450 million tonnes by 2050. The 2040 target is a substantial extension from previously proposed in the Net-Zero Industry Act, a target of at least 50 million tonnes per year of CO2 storage capacity by 2030. The Communication on Industrial Carbon Management sets out a comprehensive policy approach to deliver on these targets.
The Communication also identifies steps on developing the necessary infrastructure to establish a single market for CO2 in Europe in the decades ahead. It plans to support the development of CO2 supply chains and the required CO2 transport infrastructure. It will start preparatory work on a possible future CO2 transport and storage regulatory package, which would consider issues such as market and cost structure, third-party access, CO2 quality standards or investment incentives for new infrastructure.
Carbon removal included
The Commission will also assess the volumes of CO2 that need to be removed directly from the atmosphere (industrial carbon dioxide removals) to meet these EU emission reduction ambitions for 2040 and 2050 and assess overall objectives and policy measures to achieve them.
After achieving the 90% reduction target till 2040, the remaining EU emissions are estimated to come at less than 850 MtCO2eq, and according to the proposal, carbon removals, split into land-based and industrial CDR, could achieve total removal quantities of up to 400Mt of CO2.
The inclusion of carbon removals within the target-setting is a major milestone for the CDR industry. According to climate non-for-profit Carbon Gap, the Union’s climate ambitions lay the groundwork for the next phase of EU climate policy, where carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will play an increasingly key role.
Still the communication lacks separate targets for land-based and industrial removals as they are grouped together to achieve the removals quantities of around 400Mt of CO2. Expert groups are insisting on separate targets for them.
Furthermore, the Commission considers only bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture with carbon storage (DACCS) and biogenic carbon in the modeling of the contribution of carbon removal towards the 2040 targets, which is considered as a narrow selection by some in the industry.
“The Commission’s communication on industrial carbon management is a good first step towards supporting the development and deployment of BECCS, DACCS and biogenic carbon in the EU. It should serve as the basis for a coherent dedicated EU strategy…,” commented Valter Selén, Associate Policy Director at Carbon Gap.
Biochar and enhanced rock weathering missing
According to experts, a whole suite of other carbon removal technologies such as biochar and enhanced rock weathering are missing in the definition of industrial CDR. The sector is calling for technological neutrality in carbon removal methodologies to avoid the risk of halting innovation among the novel technologies holding high potential in removing emissions.
Jim Mann, CEO and founder of UNDO, one of the leading startups in the enhanced weathering spaace commented on the announcement by saying: “UNDO welcomes the news that carbon removals will be included in the European Commission’s 2040 emissions reduction goal. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to remove at least 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year from the atmosphere by 2050. High-quality, permanent carbon removals from enhanced rock weathering could provide up to 40% of the necessary carbon removal and we urge policymakers not to overlook this critical climate solution in carbon removal portfolios.”
There is also a lack of reference and clarity of high-durability removals which could lead to omission of the like-for-like principle, which calls for fossil fuel emissions to be only compensated by high-durability carbon removals. Separate sub-targets for land-based and high-durability removals explicitly spelt out as part of the removal target for 2040 are seen as a solution to this problem.
As explained in a blog post from climate policy expert Eve Tamme, what follows next after the publishing of the Commission’s vision are political debates through 2040. The discussions will inform the legislative proposal for the 2040 climate target which will amend the European Climate Law. The proposal is expected to be published in early 2025. The final 2040 target that will be agreed upon, will become a basis of the EU’s next Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that needs to be submitted by November 2025, ahead of COP30 in Brazil.