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New 2040 EU Climate Targets provide a wish list, but no blueprint for action

February 6, 2024

Brussels – Today, the European Commission put forth a non-binding Communication on the EU’s climate targets for 2040. 

“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”, according to Lee Beck, Senior Director for Europe and the Middle East at Clean Air Task Force.  

In its Communication, the Commission backed a net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 90% relative to 1990 levels and sketched out the actions needed to get there, which include a rapid deployment of low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and sizeable public and private investment. The document did not venture far beyond existing Green Deal policies, however, and the non-binding nature of the text and its timing at the end of the current legislative term mean that it is a display of ambition, rather than a plan for action.  

“The Commission’s Communication is an exercise in wishful thinking,” explained Maja Pozvek, EU Affairs Manager at CATF. “The ambition is laudable, but the conditions necessary to make good on that ambition will not just magically materialise. We need to see the Member States champion workable climate strategies in practice, including as they finalise their National Energy and Climate Plans.”  

Prior to the publication, CATF urged policymakers to accompany the targets with risk-conscious, innovation-forward, options-based plans. The National Energy and Climate Plans that Member States are currently revising are a key opportunity to translate lofty ambitions into concrete steps leading up to 2030, 2040, and 2050. 

“Meeting the highest possible targets hinges on a rapid deployment of climate-protecting technologies,” continued Pozvek. “The Commission has taken steps toward expanding the solution set it endorses, demonstrated by today’s Communication on industrial carbon management and SMR Alliance announcement, but has a ways to go in effectively propelling promising innovations to market. We need to move from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’. More needs to be done to commercialise these technologies, while also recognising further promising clean energy generation pathways like fusion and next-generation geothermal.” 

Despite substantial stakeholder support, the Commission also did not explicitly state the contribution of different carbon removal pathways to the EU’s overall climate target. In the lead up to the publication, more than 100 stakeholders called for the Communication to clearly separate emissions reductions, land-based sequestration, and permanent carbon removals targets. 

“To meet the 2040 climate goals, it’s crucial that the EU sets separate carbon removal targets for industrial and land-based sectors. This approach will allow to monitor and enhance their distinct contributions effectively,” said Quincy Childs, Policy Associate, Carbon Dioxide Removal, at CATF. “Moreover, there’s a pressing need to leverage high-quality land-based removals in the short term while we scale up industrial and technological solutions, ensuring all methods adhere to stringent standards.”  

The EU targets will ultimately be decided in a legislative process next term, which means that all eyes now turn to the Member States as they react to this proposal and finalise their national plans. 

Contact presse

Julia Kislitsyna, Communications Manager – Europe, +49 151 16 220 453, [email protected]

À propos de Clean Air Task Force 

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With more than 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world. Visit and follow @cleanaircatf. 

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