Europe risks missing 2030 climate goal, EU auditors warn

EU countries are vague in their plans to meet climate targets and, due to a significant financing gap, could risk not meeting the EU’s objective of reducing emissions 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in a new report on Monday (26 June).

The EU only managed to reach its 2020 climate goals thanks to the 2008 global financial crisis and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered a sharp drop in economic activity and related greenhouse gas emissions, the ECA said.

However, the auditors said Europe should not rely on unpredictable external events or an economic crisis to reach its more ambitious 2030 climate goals.

“The auditors question whether the EU’s bid to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 can become a success story, as they found little indication that actions to achieve 2030 climate and energy targets will be sufficient,” the ECA said in a statement.

Efforts to reduce energy consumption are a case in point, as EU countries “collectively lack ambition in pursuit of the 2030 energy efficiency target,” the report warned.

Financing gap

EU auditors expressed specific concern about a lack of financing to reach the bloc’s 2030 climate objectives, particularly from the private sector, which is expected to contribute significantly.

“Overall, we found little indication so far that the ambitious 2030 EU targets will be translated into sufficient action,” the report notes, saying, “there is no information that sufficient financing will be made available to reach the 2030 targets”.

The EU has earmarked 30% of its budget until 2027 to reach its climate goals, or about €87 billion annually. The auditors pointed out that this is less than 10% of the total investment needed to reach the 2030 targets, estimated at around €1 trillion per year, meaning the rest will need to come from national budgets or private sector funds.

But measures outlined by EU member states in their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) are currently too vague on financing, the auditors warned.

“NEPCs do not provide much information on how to fill the financing gap,” said Lorenzo Pirelli, an official working on climate change at ECA. “So it’s clear that more efforts are needed,” he told journalists during an online press briefing on Monday.

According to Pirelli, private investments are also being held back by constant changes in EU regulation.

“The private sector needs certainty and clarity on how much needs to be invested. The fact that the targets are moving every year doesn’t really help,” he added. And there are “little signs that these private investments will materialise from what we can see so far,” he continued.

In a written answer to the ECA report, the European Commission said it “accepts” the auditor’s recommendation to provide further assistance to EU member states in achieving their 2030 targets.

However, it added that “it is primarily for the member states to assess the drivers of progress towards their climate and energy targets,” adding that the Commission will continue to provide guidance in that regard.

Lack of transparency

EU auditors also pointed to a lack of transparency in the way EU countries were able to reach their national climate targets for 2020 using “flexible arrangements” such as statistical exchanges of renewable energy between countries or the ability to buy carbon pollution rights from other member states that had exceeded their targets.

Luxembourg and Lithuania became the first EU countries in 2017 to buy surplus renewable power from other EU countries to hit their own national goals under the EU’s renewable energy directive.

“Some EU countries did not contribute as expected and used other means to achieve their targets,” the auditors noted in the report. “We need more transparency on the performance of the EU and its member states,” said Joëlle Elvinger, the ECA member who led the audit.

Indirect emissions caused by imported goods from places like China are also currently unaccounted for, the auditors add, saying this provides a distorted picture of the EU’s actual impact on climate change.

The auditors said the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions would be around one-tenth higher if those caused by trade, international aviation and shipping were included.

“All greenhouse gas emissions caused by the EU should be accounted for,” Elvinger argued, saying this is important to ascertain the EU’s global leadership in the transition towards climate neutrality.


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