Technology & Science

European Union aims to go 'climate neutral' by 2050

The European Union's executive branch proposed Wednesday that the bloc should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, a measure that scientists say needs to be adopted worldwide in order to avoid catastrophic global warming.

'Net zero emissions' mean any emitted CO2 needs to be captured by forests, new technologies

Wind turbines stand near Jacobsdorf, Germany. The European Commission is the first major economy to set its sights on achieving "climate neutrality" in the next three decades. (Patrick Pleul/dpa via Associated Press)

The European Union's executive branch proposed Wednesday that the bloc should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, a measure that scientists say needs to be adopted worldwide in order to avoid catastrophic global warming.

The European Commission is the first major economy to set its sights on achieving "climate neutrality" in the next three decades. The plan, which was announced days before a global climate summit being held in Poland, is far more ambitious than the national targets set so far by many of the EU's 28 member nations and is likely to meet with resistance.

The EU's climate chief, Miguel Arias Canete, cited a recent scientific report that warned of deadly consequences for many species on Earth from rising temperatures.

"This has been a real wake-up call," Arias Canete told reporters in Brussels. "And today we are responding to this call."

Ending fossil fuel use

Experts say ending the use of fossil fuels — a process known as decarbonization — is one of the most important measures needed to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Canete said during a press conference Wednesday that the tools needed to achieve net zero emissions already exist. (StephanieLecocq/EPA-EFE)

Net zero emissions mean that any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest growth or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Arias Canete said the tools to achieve this target already exist.

"We are not inventing the wheel," he said.

Still, he noted that considerable investment will be needed to shift Europe's economy away from fossil fuels and this needs to be done in a socially acceptable way.

Non-binding, but 'positive message'

Bas Eickhout of the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament said the European Commission's proposal , which isn't binding, sends "a positive message" that saving the planet and economic growth can go hand-in-hand. But he noted that the EU executive had shied away from setting any new emissions targets by 2030.

"That's of course where the political debates, where the political pain will be," Eickhout told The Associated Press.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is expected to miss its goals for 2020 and Chancellor Angela Merkel has objected to raising the nation's emissions reduction target for 2030 from 40 per cent. Some European lawmakers have called for 55-per cent cuts by then.

Germany's development minister, Gerd Mueller, sought Wednesday to shift the attention onto his country's efforts to help poor nations achieve their climate goals, noting that their potential future emissions could far outstrip reductions achieved in Europe.

Berlin is doubling its funding for the Green Climate Fund to 1.5 billion euros ($2.3 billion Cdn) to boost environment-friendly measures in developing countries.

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