A few days before the COP24 climate conference starts in Katowice in Poland, the European Commission adopted on November 28 a strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy by 2050.

The strategy shows how Europe can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research – while ensuring social fairness for a just transition, the European Commission said.

Following the invitation by the European Council in March 2018, the Commission’s vision for a climate neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. For the EU to lead the world towards climate neutrality means achieving it by 2050, the Commission said.

European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič warned that people cannot safely live on a planet with a climate that is out of control.

“That does not mean that to reduce emissions, we should sacrifice the livelihoods of Europeans. 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. Europe will inevitably continue to transform. 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,” Šefčovič said.

European Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete reminded that the EU played a decisive role in securing the adoption of the Paris Agreement and will do so in Katowice as well. “It is essential that COP 24 delivers the rulebook for the Paris Agreement and takes stock of our collective efforts to meet the threat of climate change,” he said, noting that it in this context that the Commission adopted on November 28 its long-term climate strategy.

“We are today kicking off a process to determine how Europe’s energy and climate policy will evolve between now and 2050,” Cañete said. “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,” he said.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5°C made it clear that emissions need to be reduced with far more urgency than previously anticipated and that limiting climate change to 1.5°C is necessary to reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events.

“We are presenting a strategy that can lead to achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050 through a socially fair transition and in a cost-efficient manner. The strategy does not intend to launch new policies, nor does this Commission intend to revise 2030 targets,” Cañete said. “It is meant to set the direction of travel of EU climate and energy policy and to frame what the EU considers as its long-term contribution to the objectives of the Paris Agreement. With this plan, Europe will be the world’s first major economy to go for net-zero emissions by 2050,” he added

“Europe already has the world’s most ambitious climate and clean energy policies. With the new 2030 renewables and energy efficiency targets, we will cut emissions by 45% by 2030. This is the starting point for our long-term planning. But without further action, we will only reach 60% reductions by 2050. This is clearly not sufficient for the EU to contribute to the long-term temperature goals set in the Paris Agreement,” he said.

“Our strategic vision is the result of extensive scientific and economic analysis, as well as feedback and contributions from stakeholders and citizens. This confirms that climate neutrality is feasible, even with current technologies and those that are close to deployment. This analysis builds on eight scenarios – modelling different technological solutions to achieve our objectives,” he said. “They look at reductions ranging from -80% to net-zero emissions. They cover all key sectors, including energy, buildings, transport, industry, agriculture, and wider use of land. And they examine economic and employment impacts, including for regions that could be most affected by this transformation, and the implications for air pollution and other environmental and social issues,” Cañete added.

For her part, Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said that all transport modes should contribute to the decarbonisation of the European mobility system. “The goal is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This requires a systematic approach with low and zero emission vehicles, strong increase in rail network capacity, and a much more efficient organisation of the transport system, based on digitalisation; incentives for behavioural changes; alternative fuels and smart infrastructure; and global commitments. All this driven by innovation and investments,” Bulc said.

According to the Commission, the road to a climate neutral economy would require joint action in seven strategic areas: energy efficiency; deployment of renewables; clean, safe and connected mobility; competitive industry and circular economy; infrastructure and interconnections; bio-economy and natural carbon sinks; carbon capture and storage to address remaining emissions.

The European Commission has invited the European Council, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee to consider the EU vision for a climate neutral Europe by 2050. In order to prepare EU Heads of State and Government for shaping the Future of Europe at the European Council on May 9, 2019, in Sibiu, ministers in all relevant Council formations should hold extensive policy debates on the contribution of their respective policy areas to the overall vision.

The EU plans to adopt and submit an ambitious strategy by early 2020 to the UNFCCC as requested under the Paris Agreement.

According to the Commission, Member States will submit to the European Commission, by the end of 2018, their draft National Climate and Energy Plans, which are central for the achievement of the 2030 climate and energy targets and which should be forward-looking and take into account in the EU long-term strategy. In addition, an increasing number of regions, municipalities and business associations are drawing up their own vision for 2050, which will enrich the debate and contribute to defining Europe’s answer to the global challenge of climate change.

Meanwhile, WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson reiterated the European Commission’s statement that renewables and electrification will play a massive part in this transition. “Europe has done quite well so far at getting renewables into electricity but much less well at getting them into industrial processes, buildings and transport,” he said. “We have to change that if we’re serious about decarbonisation. We believe we can increase the share of electricity in energy from 24% today to 62% by 2050. If we do it with renewables, we can cut energy-related emissions in Europe by 90% by 2050. And that’ll bring many other benefits including improved air quality and reduced reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports,” he added.

According to Dickson, wind energy is more than ready to step up to this challenge. “Onshore wind is already the cheapest form of new power generation in most of Europe. Offshore wind is not far behind. Countries should now include ambitious goals for renewables and electrification in their National Energy and Climate Plans for 2030,” he said, adding that this will help put Europe on track to meet its contribution to the Paris goal of keeping global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees.