The carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gasses (GHG) is slowly warming the planet, leading to melting ice caps, desertification, water scarcity, dead crops, famine, disease, and unpredictable weather that is causing huge death counts across the world. The news? It will only get worse if we do not balance out carbon emissions.
In 2019, EU delegates met at the Brussels Convention to pledge their intention to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in what is known as the “European Green Deal” (EGD). But what does this mean and is it working?
What does carbon neutrality by 2050 mean?
Carbon neutrality does not mean the absence of carbon emissions but instead the balancing out of the emissions entering and exiting the atmosphere. In 2022, it was estimated that annual global CO2 emissions reached 36.8 gigatonnes while only between 9.5 and 11 gigatonnes of CO2 is removed per year, making it abundantly clear big changes are needed before the world or the EU can achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
What will happen if we do not reach carbon neutrality by 2050?
Current carbon emissions have meant a global warming of 1.1ºC, which has already resulted in major humanitarian disasters and a huge rise in climate refugees. If the world warms by 1.5ºC, it will mean devastating and irreversible damage to all life on Earth as well as the planet itself. Some of the expected consequences include dead soil, water scarcity, and a hotter climate, leading to the mass extinctions of animals and plants and subsequent famine, disease, war, and death. Additionally, a warmer and rising sea will lead to unpredictable weather and natural disasters, meaning more humanitarian catastrophes. Any place fortunate enough to receive a tropical climate thanks to climate change will see itself besieged by the millions fleeing less habitable places.
Carbon neutrality is the only way to minimize the risk of global warming and its fatal consequences. Although late, reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 would mean a risk of temporarily exceeding 1.5ºC but a possibility to reverse the damage. If climate neutrality isn’t reached until 2060, the temperature rise and the fatal consequences are guaranteed.
How does the EU plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050?
To reach climate neutrality by 2050, the EU aims to cut emissions by at least 90%. With this in mind, the European Green Deal (EGD) focuses on long-term strategies to cut emissions across all sectors and replace fossil-fuels with renewables. These strategies provide new, green jobs for a smooth transition that ensures sustainable economic growth.
On an individual basis, EU leaders are advocating for lifestyle changes to reduce carbon footprints at home, this will include reducing energy consumption, eating less meat, and using more public or non-motorized transport.
Finally, to top up the reduction of GHG emissions, EU countries will promote and protect carbon sinks such as forests, oceans, and soil (responsible for 99.99% of carbon dioxide removals (CDR)), as well as use carbon offsetting.
What has been done so far to reach carbon neutrality by 2050?
To regulate progress and ensure member states stay on track, EU leaders have published targets for 2030 first with a progression plan to hit net zero emissions by 2050. This also allows for changes to be made in response to technological developments. Most EU Green Deal strategies target GHG emissions by supporting a switch to renewable energies and working on increased efficiency and reduced demand.
Some examples include Spain, which is aiming for a switch to 100% renewables in its electricity production by 2050, 97% renewables in the “heating and cooling” sector by 2050, and for the transport sector it proposes a transition to 28% renewables by 2030 and 79% in 2050. In France, there is a focus on reduced demand, with final energy consumptions reduced by half in 2050, compared to today’s levels. The plan is to achieve this through significant increases in energy efficiency within the transport sector as well as acceleration in residential and tertiary sectors — the objective being to have 100% low-energy buildings by 2050.
What obstacles has the EU encountered while striving to reach carbon neutrality by 2050?
Reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 is not as straightforward as switching to renewables. This switch will need money, however, the already-present impacts of climate change mean global finances could be a great obstacle. Changing temperatures and erratic weather patterns will mean increased costs from damages in capital stock and production, adverse effects on tourism, trade, and investment in many regions, as well as increased strain on public services as migration flows. Money trouble has also meant pushback from some sectors and their workers.
1. Providing jobs and reskilling
As the Green Deal pushes renewables forward and pulls back on fossil fuels, many jobs in fossil fuel heavy industries will be lost. Although new jobs will appear in sectors such as transport, solar and wind energy, or building energy-efficient housing, reskilling the labor force will take time and money. Additionally, those too old to retrain will be out of a job, which has meant push back from many working in the field.
2. Providing financial incentives to switch to cleaner systems
Many industries will need to switch to more energy-efficient mechanisms to comply with increasingly stringent emission rules. Depending on the size of the business, the sector, and its reliance on carbon-intensive machinery or fuel, this could mean an expensive transition. To incentivize this, the EU has set up many grant schemes, such as the LIFE: Clean Energy Transition fund, with a budget of €1 billion for the period 2021-2027 and the Just Transition Mechanism fund, with €150 billion of investments to alleviate the socio-economic impact of the transition.
3. Supporting poorer or more carbon-reliant member states to invest in the reduction of emissions
Some EU member states are poorer or more carbon reliant than others, meaning the economic load will be larger for them. This was further exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic, which saw economies in some member states affected more than others ( economic growth rates for the likes of Spain, Italy, and Portugal were much worse than for Germany and Denmark, for example). To make becoming climate neutral fair, the European Modernization Fund sets aside some €14 billion for the investment needs of the 10 lower-income EU countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Is the EU on track to reach carbon neutrality by 2050?
The goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 with a reduction of GHG emissions by 55% by 2030 requires huge changes to the way Europeans live and work. So far, the Green Deal has had a big impact: The 2020 objective to cut down emissions by 20% from the 1990 level was achieved three years ahead of schedule and by 2021 reductions reached 30%.
However, research by the European Climate Neutrality Observatory, which assesses indicators across the leading economic sectors, shows that more is needed to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Most pressing is the EU’s direction in carbon dioxide removal, agrifood, mobility, buildings, adaptation, and finance. The report states that to achieve net zero emissions, the EU must increase its annual climate investments to €360 billion as well as help individual households reduce their carbon footprint.
What must the EU do to reach carbon neutrality by 2050?
1. Clean electricity
Reduce reliance on fossil fuels and shift to renewables to reduce the carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. This will include greater use of solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean, bioenergy, and nuclear power.
To do this, the EU must accelerate technological solutions and increase cleantech manufacturing capacity. Most importantly, it must work toward removing any financial barriers to development. Positive movement is being seen here in the shape of more private investment, since government budgets are insufficient.
AE Solar, a Bloomberg Tier 1 PV module manufacturer is one of the award-winning, leading brands in the renewable energy market and has been providing high-quality photovoltaic solutions since 2003. As part of the EGD's objectives, AE Solar is actively promoting the adoption of solar energy and supporting the transition to cleaner energy sources. With a production capacity of 2GW, AE Solar is present in more than 100 countries.
2. Efficient transportation of passengers and goods
Between 1990 and 2020 overall transport emissions increased by 7%, however, in Europe they decreased by 32%. This trend needs to continue with populations incentivized to use more public and non-motorized transportation.
The EU must encourage further adoption of electric and clean heavy-duty vehicles through grants and regulations. Transporting goods via rail in the proposed European Silk Road would also help to curb emissions through transportation.
3. Sustainable and efficient buildings
The Renovation Wave set a 60% reduction of emissions target by 2030 compared to 2015. To achieve this, the decrease in emissions from 2015 to 2021 needs to be 7.5 times higher.
To achieve this target, new homes must be optimized and smaller, with space per capita reduced; the share of renewable energy in heating and cooling must accelerate by 7 times to reach 100; optimized renovations are needed across the field to decrease embodied emissions; and the demand for new building materials needs to be reduced.
Take AE Solar's latest 20MW project for example, it capitalizes on existing building rooftops, including government facilities, schools, hospitals, village committees, industrial sites, and rural residences, covering approximately 200,000 square meters. This initiative is expected to reduce carbon emissions by approximately 508,000 tons. It demonstrates the potential of sustainable energy to coexist with green development in terms of improving communities, generating income, and enhancing the quality of life.
4. Effective land use and agriculture
Although the EU is headed in the right direction in its reduced bovine meat consumption, use of nitrogen fertilizer, increased organic farming area, and downstream food-related emissions, it needs to quicken its pace to hit targets.
The areas that need serious work and are responsible for some of the highest emissions in Europe include high livestock numbers and manure management.
Carbon sinks, such as forests, are the planet’s main point of defense against climate change. However, due to deforestation, forest fires, and forest mismanagement, carbon capture is decreasing.
The rise in forest fires, a result of increasing temperatures, has meant less forests and the release of previously captured carbon back into the atmosphere. Reforesting is therefore urgent if aiming to achieve the EU’s Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) net removals target of 310 Mt CO2e by 2030.
6. Structural changes in industry
Industry in the EU is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels and there is no sign of improvement, with transitions to clean energies remaining stagnant for the past five years. Industrial emissions will need to decline 2.7 times faster with industries implementing major structural changes to their processes. This is best tackled with innovation in technology and heightened private and public funding.
7. Mindset shift
A change in mindset is of paramount importance for the world to become climate neutral. One way to tackle this is through financial incentives and awareness campaigns.
For example, vegetarian food should be promoted and subsidized; high-quality public transport should be introduced and subsidized; recycling should be promoted and regulated; awareness campaigns should be run to increase the understanding of the impacts of water and energy usage; more grants are needed to ensure fuel-efficient housing; and digitization should be increased to reduce the need for produced goods.
How important is reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 and will we make it?
Becoming carbon neutral is the only way to curb the warming of the planet and so avoid catastrophic increasing natural disasters, heavy loss of life and unpredictable weather. Becoming climate neutral by 2050 is our last chance to stop irreversible damage to the planet that will lead, if not stop, to the doom of Earth and our species.
It is clear that the European Green Deal is already making a big impact and GHG emissions are reducing as a consequence. However, if we are to meet the 2050 target a lot more must be done and at a much faster rate.
ABOUT AE SOLAR
AE Solar is headquartered in Königsbrunn, Germany, with satellite offices in Brazil and Georgia. The production lines are located in China and Turkey with an annual capacity of 2GW.↳
AE Solar has a global distribution network in more than 95 countries, and products are available in more than 100 countries and regions around the world.