The European Commission (EC) has put forward eight new climate targets – the most ambitious of which would establish the European Union as the first major economy to go "climate neutral". This move comes ahead of the COP24 climate conference due to take place in Katowice, Poland, next month.
Today, the EU is the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world (falling just behind China, the US, and India) and combined, its member states are responsible for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the World Resources Institute reports. But if the new proposal was to go ahead, the bloc could achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
So, what does this mean exactly? Climate neutrality is the idea that any emissions are offset by the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by means of carbon capture and storage – think: chemical looping and tree planting. To achieve this, the EC put forward a number of strategies (or "building blocks") in addition to carbon capture, including decarbonization and improving energy efficiency.
Reaching climate neutrality will be challenging but Maroš Šefčovič, the Vice-President of the European Commission, is optimistic.
"Over the last years, we have shown how to reduce emissions, while creating prosperity, high-quality local jobs, and improving people’s quality of life," he said in a statement.
"Our strategy now shows that by 2050, it is realistic to make Europe both climate neutral and prosperous, while leaving no European and no region behind."
As well as being a major benefit to the environment and people's health – the EU predicts 40 percent of premature deaths caused by air pollution could be avoided – net-zero could be a savvy move economically speaking. According to the EC, energy imports would fall by 70 percent, saving EU countries somewhere between €2 and 3 trillion ($2.2 and 3.4 trillion) up to 2050.
But it will be challenging. While the EU has managed to cut emissions by 20 percent since the 1990s despite seeing economic growth, it is currently only projected to achieve a 60 percent reduction by 2050.
What's more, some environmental activists say even the most ambitious of the eight targets is not challenging enough. Instead, they say the 2050 end date should be brought forward and targets for 2030 (a 45 percent emission cut) should be raised to help meet the 1.5°C (2.7°F) limit strongly advised by the IPCC to avoid the worst effects of warming.
The next steps will be for the EU member states to debate the eight scenarios laid out by the EC, only two of which would result in net-zero emissions by 2050. (The least ambitious would still involve a reduction of 80 percent.) They then hope to adopt and submit the chosen scenario to the United Nations by early 2020, the BBC reports.
"We have all seen – not later than this summer – that the implications of not getting climate change under control are profound and costly. We cannot afford the price of inaction," said Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.
While this is certainly an exciting move, some European countries have already started to lay out their own strategies to achieve climate neutrality. For example Sweden, who in 2017 committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2045.