What is a “fair” contribution of the EU to the 2°C limit?

40% emission reductions by 2030 is not enough

The author

Kornelis Blok
Management Team

This blog post has been written by Dr. Niklas Höhne:

A greenhouse gas reduction target for the EU in 2030 would have to be in the order of 50% or more (with a large range) below 1990 to be compatible with the EU’s goal to limit global temperature increase to 2°C.

Since 1996 the EU has repeatedly emphasised its commitment to help limit global temperature increase to below 2°C. In order to keep this goal within reach, currently increasing global emissions need to reach their peak this decade and start declining at a significant pace.

What is the “fair” contribution of the EU to achieving this global goal? There is no universal interpretation on what is fair, it always depends on the perspective. Research has analysed many of such different perspectives as different “effort sharing approaches”.  

For the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and in related studies, we, together with Michel den Elzen from Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), summarised many available effort sharing studies and found that developed countries would have to adopt targets of 25% to 40% below 1990 in 2020 and 80% to 95% in 2050 in order to be in line with the 2°C limit. These values have been used widely as a benchmark on what is fair. For example, the EU agreed on a long-term target for 2050 of 80% to 95% below 1990. Some countries have used these ranges to set their domestic targets, e.g. Norway, South Korea and Mexico.

A discussion has emerged on the appropriate greenhouse gas reduction target for the EU in 2030. Several current studies are now relevant:

  • In a new paper we updated the analysis for the upcoming IPCC report and analysed over 40 studies that make these effort sharing calculations. This paper presents results for ten global regions consistent with the regional definitions of the IPCC, which unfortunately split the EU into two regions. The group of OECD countries  would need to adopt targets of 33% to 74% and Eastern European countries & Russia by 52% to 69% below 1990 in 2030. An approximate value for the EU as a whole would be in the order of more than 50% below 1990 in 2030.
  • In a recent study, we used our own model and applied a range of principles to the global distribution of efforts in reaching the 2°C limit. According to these calculations, an indicative ‘fair’ EU contribution would be a reduction of EU greenhouse gas emissions by around 49% (median of a full range from 39% to 79%) by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
  • The Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) presented a study, that calculated an approach to share costs in such a way that the impact on GDP is equal among all countries. This results in a target for the EU of 45% to 47% below 1990 in 2030.

The spread of the results is large, because interpretations of what is fair vary considerably. The effort sharing approaches that require the least reductions from the EU (and developed countries in general) are those that are based on the costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In such an approach, the EU would benefit as reducing emissions in developing countries is considered to be less costly compared to in the EU. These least ambitious targets are in the order of 40% to 47% for the EU. On the other end of the spectrum are proposals that put significant emphasis on historical greenhouse gas emissions and economic capability to reduce emissions. The EU scores very high on both indicators. These approaches, e.g. one proposed by developing country researchers, result in near zero (100% reduction) or even negative emission targets (more than 100% reduction) for the EU already in 2030. Such stringent targets can only be achieved by purchasing emission reductions from abroad in addition to reducing domestic emissions.

Even though many targets can be viewed as fair contribution to 2°C: A 40% target is only just at the least ambitious end of that spectrum. A 50% target or more would be closer to the mid-range.

One reaction on 'What is a “fair” contribution of the EU to the 2°C limit?'

  • Ecofys: Niklas Höhne 31-01-2014 at 09:53 Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your helpful remarks. This blog is a simplified view of what is explained in detail in the underlying studies.

    My main message is that a 40% target is only just at the least ambitious end of the possible spectrum and that more would be better. How much depends on the viewpoint and the approach chosen. The blog mentions the full range, including the ambitious end defined by your proposal. The range quoted "the group of OECD countries would need to adopt targets of 33 to 74%... below 1990 in 2030" is indeed a simplification, truncating extreme results at both ends. The underlying paper shows also a different way of aggregating. Results are shown in categories of approaches, where your approach falls within a category of its own. You also quote this in your response.

    You point to another fact that (after the blog was written) the European Commission proposed to reduce *domestic* greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, i.e. could achieve more with international offsets or climate financing. However it was not specified how much that will be.


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