EU’s 2040 climate ambition is undermined by distractions and shortsighted decisions on agriculture

Today’s European Commission 2040 climate target communication and Industrial Carbon Management (ICM) strategy indicate some good intentions, but an overreliance on insufficient and expensive technologies and the failure to adequately address dietary shifts or emissions for the agricultural sector casts serious doubt on the likelihood of meeting these ambitions.

Mathieu Mal, Policy Officer for Agriculture and Climate at the European Environmental Bureau said: 

“The agri-food sector can and must contribute to EU climate ambition. It is therefore highly disappointing to see another opportunity to set an ambitious target to bring the sector in line with overall climate targets pass by. This lack of ambition will not only hinder the EU’s efforts to tackle emissions and reach climate neutrality, but by failing to look at holistic long-term solutions, the EU fails to act on other areas impacted by our agri-food systems. Further delays and short-term concessions will ultimately harm EU farmers and agriculture, including threatening long-term food security.”

Riccardo Nigro, Senior Policy Officer for Zero Pollution Industry at the European Environmental Bureau said: 

“Instead of preventing emissions by prioritising cost-effective and safe solutions, such as circularity and material and energy efficiency, the Commission decided to gamble on carbon capture to achieve the 2040 target. This careless plan does not pay attention to the risks associated with carbon capture performances and casts strong doubts on the likelihood of achieving the 2040 goal. The role of carbon capture is to support climate crisis mitigation through a targeted use, not to turn a problem into a commodity. ”

Cosimo Tansini, Policy Officer for Renewable Energy at the European Environmental Bureau said: 

“Aiming for 90% emissions reductions only brings the EU in line with the minimum requirements for a sustainable Europe according to the ESABCC. Not only is this insufficient to mitigate dangerous climate impacts, but the EU is relying on underdeveloped technologies to achieve its targets. Carbon neutrality by 2040, supported by a 100% renewable energy system, is possible. And it can be done without these technologies, by focusing instead on demand reduction, grid development and accelerated renewable energy deployment.”

The proposed 90% net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is a narrowly competent effort towards climate action. Furthermore, the ICM plan introduces a needed framework for dealing with carbon emissions, an essential part of reaching climate neutrality by 2050.  

However, the proposals raise concerns due to the overreliance on expensive and unproven technologies. The Commission plan relies heavily on carbon capture and carbon removals to be ready at scale, while it does not question the actual effectiveness of such technologies. Additionally, it fails to prioritise emission reductions through other more cost-effective means such as energy and material efficiency, sufficiency and circularity practices. 

In following this approach, the EU risks failing to meet its own climate targets while squandering time and taxpayer money. Reliable, affordable solutions such as renewable energy, smart grids and heat pumps are already available and being deployed. Carbon capture must be the last-resort tool to seize emissions for which no other decarbonisation options are available. Spending Europe’s limited time and public money on proven solutions is the only way to achieve decarbonisation on time.

All sectors must play their part in reaching climate neutrality. However once again, following pressure from industry and lobbying groups (who do not represent the entire farming community), the Commission has dropped the ball on agriculture. Failure to set an ambitious emission reduction target for the agricultural sector and encourage holistic solutions rather than partial technofixes will not only hinder Europe in achieving its climate goals but will put further pressure on farmers, who are already the first to suffer the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises, endangering their livelihoods and incomes.

The clear reference to the need for a holistic approach to policymaking on food is a step in the right direction. Policy incoherence has been recognised as one of the greatest obstacles to the transition to healthy and sustainable food systems. If Europe hopes to achieve climate targets, it must ensure that EU policies align to achieve common objectives. Furthermore, we welcome the recognition of the role that the food industry plays in shaping food environments, as the main lever of change in the effort to achieve healthy and sustainable diets for everyone. In this context – the explicit reference to the need to make healthy and sustainable diets the most accessible and affordable choice for consumers is very promising, although a clear reference to meaningful policy measures to ensure that happens is missing.

Finally, the Commission points to the role of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) in driving sustainable practices in EU agriculture, yet the CAP continues to fail to create the change needed or ensure a just transition for farmers, whilst the CRCF has yet to take form (but already raises serious concerns) and the long-awaited framework legislation to guide the transition to sustainable food systems is still missing in action. 



Maria Luís Fernandes
Communications Officer for Zero Pollution Industry
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Samantha Ibbott
Communications Officer for Agriculture and Food
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Hannah O’Sullivan
Communications Officer for Climate and Energy
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Notes for editors

European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change’s recommendations to put the EU on track towards climate neutrality: focus on immediate implementation and continued action to achieve EU climate goals.

Reality check: The case for a targeted use of Carbon Capture and Storage

EU’s 2040 climate ambition is undermined by distractions and shortsighted decisions on agriculture
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