Climate-neutral EU: Immediate rigorous action needed

April 13, 2021

The EU wants to become climate-neutral by 2050. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions should already be 55 percent lower than 1990 levels. Transport plays a crucial role in meeting these goals. Fraunhofer ISI makes suggeastions for the necessary transformation of European transport policy.

The European Union has set itself the goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050 and in this way contributing to limiting the level of global warming to well below 2°C, ideally a maximum of 1.5°C. Until recently, it was planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. However, the European Council adopted a new target at the end of 2020: According to this, the EU should emit at least 55 percent fewer greenhouse gases in 2030 than in 1990.

Transport represents a crucial factor in achieving this emission reduction and climate neutrality, as it is currently responsible for about one quarter of the EU's energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. This calls for a revision of the EU's transport policy, including changing the CO2 fleet limits and constructing infrastructures for alternative drive systems. The study “Net-zero-carbon transport in Europe until 2050” by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI shows ways to adapt European transport policy so that the EU transport sector can become climate-neutral and fulfil its contribution to the Paris Agreement. This is still possible in principle, but requires more rigorous policy measures.

The lead author, Dr. Patrick Plötz, outlines the key points: “For Europe to play its part in meeting the 1.5 degree target, much more ambitious CO2 fleet limits for passenger cars and trucks must be adopted by 2030. For newly registered passenger vehicles, an 80 percent emission reduction would be necessary by 2030 compared to 2021. No more internal combustion engine vehicles should be sold by 2033 at the latest, - the market is already being driven in this direction by well-known car manufacturers increasingly turning their backs on the combustion engine, innovations in the field of electric mobility and international competitive pressure. For trucks, the emissions of newly registered vehicles have to fall by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to today. This is certainly achievable, as there are already many promising approaches today to energy efficiency and zero emission drives2.

For the electrification of passenger cars and trucks as well as other alternative drives, it is crucial to develop and deploy the necessary infrastructure promptly. The authors also recommend putting a much higher price on greenhouse gas emissions as another major incentive for less private motorized traffic, as well as a switch to public transport and alternative drives. Reducing emissions also requires more high-speed and more night trains, as rail transportation is already largely electrified, and more efforts for zero emission air and sea transport.

Dr. Jakob Wachsmuth, one of the co-authors of the current publication, points to another important aspect: “To comply with the targets in the Paris Climate Agreement, it is also essential to consider the cumulative emissions over time. Given its current emissions, the EU transport sector would have completely exhausted its remaining emissions budget of 10 to 12 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents by 2033 at the latest. All the additional emissions would contribute to raising the global temperature by more than 1.5 degrees“.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.