05/03/2012 March 2012 : Towards a low-carbon economy

On March 8th 2011, the European Commission presented its ‘Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050’. Developed as part of its flagship initiative regarding efficient use of resources, this roadmap should enable the European Union to reduce its gas emissions by 80% to 95% of 1990 level by 2050. The roadmap was discussed by Council and was also the subject of a report by the European Parliament’s ENVI committee (environment, public health and food safety). The report, written by MEP Chris Davies (ALDE UK), will be debated in the European Parliament’s plenary session on March 15th next.

European action on climate change

The roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050 was developed in the context of the European Union’s general action on climate change. At the beginning of 2011, the Commission also presented the Europe 2020 flagship initiatives for a Europe efficient in its use of resources as well as with regard to its energy efficiency plan.

The European Union is trying to minimise waste production, improve resource management, change consumption patterns, optimise production processes as well as management and business methods and improve logistics. In addition to working towards environmental protection, these actions are aimed at promoting ‘green technologies’, thus improving our performance from a productivity and competitiveness point of view.

Reducing greenhouse gas emission by at least 80% by 2050

The central objective of the text is to respect the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 relative to 1990 levels. For this, the EU should develop adapted strategies and encourage Member States to adopt national plans to move towards a low-carbon European economy. Another commitment that must be met is increasing the share of renewable energy to 20% and improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.

Range per key sector for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their 1990 levels by 2030 and 2050:

  • Electricity (CO2): by -54% to -68% in 2030 and by -93% to -99% in 2050;
  • Industry (CO2): by -34% to -40% in 2030 and by -83% to -87% in 2050;
  • Transport (including aviation, excluding maritime) (CO2): by +20% to -9% in 2030 and by -54% to -67% in 2050;
  • Agriculture (excluding CO2): by -36% to -37% in 2030 and by -42% to -49% in 2050.

Naturally, the international dimension is fundamental in the sense that the EU, which makes up 10% of the world’s emissions, cannot fight against climate change on its own. The Union is determined to continue setting a positive example but is of course encouraging its partners to make comparable efforts. Furthermore, the EU has committed to reviewing upwardly its objectives for emissions reduction for 2020 in the case of an international agreement in which developed and developing countries commit to making a contribution adapted to “their responsibilities and their capacities”.

The Parliament’s report strengthens the provisions of the roadmap

The roadmap was the subject of a report by the Parliament’s ENVI committee with Chris Davies (ALDE UK) as rapporteur. The draft report, delivered on October 28th 2011, lists the conclusions of Parliament and aims to strengthen and clarify the European action towards a competitive low-carbon economy.

Chris Davies (UK) has been an ALDE MEP since 1999 and is a member of the ENVI committee. He is a spokesperson for the British Liberal Democrat Party on environmental and public health issues at the European Parliament.

Firstly, the Parliament recommends that the Commission proposes legislative measures to guarantee that the roadmap is well implemented. In particular, the Parliament would like to see the European Union’s emissions allowance trading scheme improved. While this is a good system for enabling industrial emissions be reduced, the low price of carbon due to surplus allowances does not provide enough incentive to invest in low-carbon techniques. Chris Davies’ report also stresses the need to be able to require all Member States to create national strategies for reducing carbon emissions.

"The fight against climate change can help us overcome the economic recession while maintaining competitiveness and innovation in industry, while improving energy efficiency and resource efficiency and avoiding deterioration of the environment and health".
Dan Jorgensen (S&D Denmark).

Increasing investments to promote a "green economy" in cooperation with large industrial groups is the second major conclusion of the parliamentary report.  According to the report, the idea that the roadmap will undermine European competitiveness without bringing significant advantages in terms of emissions reductions is mistaken. The Chris Davies report goes even further claiming that the road map is an economic necessity and gives China as an example. China has invested more than any other country in renewable energies which have become a priority there. It is thus of utmost importance "to back forward-looking technologies and invest in the processes that use energy and resources much more efficiently".

"The low cost of carbon is currently disincentivising companies from investing in technologies that effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a good decision of Parliament to ask Commission to eliminate the surplus of emissions allowances".
Bas Eickhout (Greens Netherlands).

The Parliament also proposes a series of recommendations concerning specific sectors in which European action could be improved. The ENVI committee has been invited to produce an action plan for carbon capture and storage; to propose measures encouraging greater energy efficiency in the use of agricultural lands; to set upper limits for average CO2 emission from new cars and also to present ways to reduce methane and F-gases.

On the subject of carbon leakage, which is when production is outsourced outside of the European Union where CO2 emissions are less costly, the Parliament recommends granting compensation to the industries concerned so as not to prejudice the European economy while ensuring that the industry in question is not over-stating the risk.


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