Authors: members of the Advisory Board of Scientists for Future (*)
Berlin, October 2, 2020 | Scientists for Future (S4F) confirm that the demands of Fridays for Future (FFF) on EU politics are factually necessary and scientifically justified. According to IPCC calculations, the EU27 will have a residual budget for emissions of 20 Gt CO2 from 2021 to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees. An 80% reduction in emissions by 2030 corresponds to a path within this budget framework. The EU would have to be CO2-neutral by 2035 at the latest. The demands by FFF are consistent with the 1.5 degree target. They are based on climate science and are politically and economically within the range of what is necessary and feasible.
Berlin, October 2, 2020 | Following the global climate strike on September 25, 2020, Fridays for Future (FFF) wrote a letter to German decision-makers in the EU regarding the German presidency of the Council of the EU.
Scientists for Future (S4F) support the repeatedly submitted demands of the for Future climate and sustainability movement as well as the justified fight by young people for climate justice and for their future. If the global temperature increase exceeds critical thresholds, Earth’s natural system will change or even cross tipping points, regardless of political targets. Objectively, there is not much time left to implement effective measures that significantly reduce emissions.
Demands by Fridays for Future
FFF Germany write: „With its current climate protection ambitions, the European Union is very clearly missing the 1.5 °C target. Even Germany’s efforts to date under its Council Presidency in no way do justice to the 1.5 °C target„. Based on scientific analyses, we also come to a similar conclusion. Although German policymakers have acted on many levels, the measures adopted so far (e.g. climate package, coal phase-out law) are insufficient for Germany, the European Union and the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We would like to point this out with urgency: The later any corrections are made to meet the defined 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement, the more drastic and expensive these corrections will have to be. If they are implemented too late, this target will no longer be attainable.
The demands by FFF to the European governments are as follows: „The European Union must achieve net zero of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. To achieve this, an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is essential„. This requires „a legally binding remaining CO2 budget for the European Union of 20 gigatons with immediate effect, which results from the above-mentioned emissions reduction targets and is divided into decreasing annual budgets”.
Reduction of emissions by 80 percent by 2030 consistent with Paris Agreement
In the following, we explain that these demands for the EU27 to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030 and to limit total emissions in the future to 20 Gt CO2 from 2021 onwards are ambitious, but — scientifically speaking — consistent with and comprehensively derived from the Paris Climate Agreement.
In its report „Global Warming of 1.5 ºC“ (SR15), the IPCC calculates the size of the remaining CO2 budget that is consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. That remaining CO2 budget is calculated with respect to a baseline date of January 1, 2018. According to the IPCC, the total global budget remaining after January 1, 2018 is 580 Gt CO2 in order to remain within the 1.5 degree target with at least 50 percent likelihood, and 420 Gt CO2 in order to achieve it with at least 67 percent likelihood.
The EU’s share of this global budget is not specifically stated in the Paris climate agreement, but the basic principles of fairness and equitable burden sharing are part of the treaty. If emissions rights are based on the proportion of the world’s population, the upper limit for emissions for the EU27 (excluding the UK) is 5.9 percent of the global budget. Compared to other regions of the world, this percentage does not specifically favour or disfavour industrial regions with above-average emissions such as the EU. The emissions for the years 2018–2020 must be deducted from the maximum CO2-emissions budget from 2018 derived for the EU27 in order to calculate the residual budget remaining for the years post 2020. The exact figures for the period 2018-2020 are not yet available, but amount to approximately 9 Gt CO2. This leaves 25.2 Gt CO2 for the EU27 to meet the temperature limit with a 50 percent probability, and 15.7 Gt CO2 to meet it with a 67 percent probability.
It is therefore clear that the demand for a residual budget of 20 Gt CO2 for the EU27 beginning in 2021 corresponds to the goal of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees with a likelihood of between 50 and 67 percent. Taking into account that the IPCC budgets omit some additional aspects which would further reduce the budget (such as feedback from thawing permafrost), this corresponds to an overall likelihood of 50 percent of staying below 1.5 degrees. The largely speculative assumption that comprehensive after-the-fact extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere will occur in the future is not taken into account here. The budget proposal submitted by FFF is thus in no way radical, but rather the result of balanced derivations from the Paris Agreement. The calculation also corresponds to the methodical approach of the German Government’s Council on the Environment (SRU) regarding the German and European CO2 budgets.
CO2 neutrality of the EU by 2035 at the latest
If emissions by the EU27 were to continue at around 3 Gt CO2 per year, the EU’s remaining budget would be used up in just over seven years. If annual emissions were to be reduced in a linear manner, it would last for slightly more than 14 years. The EU would have to be CO2-neutral by 2035 at the latest. In the illustrative case that EU27 emissions are reduced linearly, emissions would have to decrease by 6.9 percent annually (in relation to the base year 1990) to meet the 1.5 degree target. A reduction of 80 percent compared to 1990 corresponds to a path within the framework of this budget. It should be kept in mind that the reduction of the first half of the emissions will probably be easier than that of the second half, so a disproportionate effort until 2030 seems justified.
The demand by FFF is based on climate science and does justice to the fact that the 1.5 degree target can only be achieved with drastic measures. For example: in order to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions in the electricity sector by 2030, an increase in photovoltaic capacity is required to be put into effect immediately, and to be higher than proposed in the draft amendment to the EEG by a factor of 3 to 4. An 80 percent reduction of CO2 for 2030 appears to be a herculean task, but only because the serious omissions of the past are boomeranging here. The use of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases, which is frequently being suggested and which accounts for a considerable share of all scenarios of the EU strategy for climate neutrality, is neither economically nor ecologically viable.
To summarize: the demands of FFF are consistent with the analyses of the IPCC SR15 to stay within the 1.5 degree target, allowing for equal future emissions rights for all. They imply CO2 neutrality from 2035 onwards without relying on massive carbon capture (CDR: Carbon Dioxide Removal).
The bar is set high for the German presidency of the Council of the EU and also with respect to the European Green Deal: a complete conversion of the energy system towards 100 percent renewable energy sources. According to DIW estimates, an emissions reduction of 65 instead of 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 would alone mean that over 60 billion tons of CO2 could be saved compared to current trends. According to the DIW, this would require investments of 3000 billion Euro. This investment requirement is offset by savings of 2000 billion Euro as a result of avoiding imports of fossil energy. Further cost reductions will occur by mitigating the effects of climate change in the form of extreme weather events, natural disasters, crop failures and other consequences.
Restructuring of EU agricultural subsidies
The „holistic restructuring of European agricultural subsidies“ called for by the FFF in its paper is to be considered here exclusively from the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions; aspects of the CAP and species extinction are not addressed here. Nitrous oxide (N2O) has a greenhouse effect that is 250 stronger per molecule than CO2, and 80 percent of nitrous oxide emissions originate from agriculture. The EU agricultural policy is the financial heavyweight of the EU. In order to achieve the transformation of agriculture, the system of subsidies, which up to now have only been based on the surface area of farms, should be redesigned. For example, the estimated amount of CO2 absorption by healthy soils could be compensated by providing subsidies to farmers who cultivate their soils sustainably that are (at the least) equivalent to the price of CO2 emissions . Any residual greenhouse gas emissions that are remaining from the agricultural sector, which are caused by natural decomposition processes and cannot be completely eliminated, could be compensated by initiatives that support corresponding CO2-sequestration in soils and forests. This could then lead to net zero emissions in the agricultural sector.
Need for action is derived from climate science
In summary, the need for action formulated by Fridays for Future is quite reasonable from the perspective of scientific facts. The need for action of this scale is based on the internationally binding Paris Agreement as well as on requirements derived from climate science. This kind of action still remains within the realm of what is feasible.
1 (*) Franz Baumann, Jelle Bijama, Christian Breyer, Felix Creutzig, Claus-Heinrich Daub, Felix Ekardt, Joachim Fensterle, Gregor Hagedorn, Judith Hardt, Stefan Heiland, Peter Hennicke, Anke Herold, Adolf Kloke-Lesch, Harald Krause, Helga Kromp-Kolb, Sebastian Lakner, Mojib Latif, Reinhold Leinfelder, Peter Lemke, Wolfgang Lucht, Hans-Jochen Luhmann, Linus Mattauch, Klaus Müschen, Kai Niebert, Pao-Yu Oei, Guy Peer, Andreas Pfennig, Volker Quaschning, Stefan Rahmstorf, Heide Schuster, Volker Stelzer, Katja Tielbörger, Lorena Valdivia-Steel, Christian von Hirschhausen, Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Karen Helen Wiltshire, Volker Wulfmeyer; Editors: Franz Ossing, Christoph Schönherr.
2 Lenton et al.: Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against (2019).
3 IPCC. Global Warming of 1.5ºC (IPCC, 2018).
4 Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen (German Council on the Environment): Environmental Report 2020, Chapter 2: Using the CO2 budget to meet the Paris climate targets (SRU, 2020).
5 See for example: Philip Sterchele et al: Wege zu einem klimaneutralen Energiesystem – Die deutsche Energiewende im Kontext gesellschaftlicher Verhaltensweisen (Fraunhofer ISE, Februar 2020).
6 See current “Impact Assessment” regarding the proposal of the European Commission: “Mehr Ehrgeiz für das Klimaziel Europas bis 2030” (SWD(2020) 176final, S. 55).
7 Karlo Hainsch et al.: Make the European Green Deal Real – Combining Climate Neutrality and Economic Recovery. Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (Berlin 2020).
8 At 38 percent of the EU budget, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) represents a significant component of that budget. See also: Guy Pe’er et al.: „Action needed for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to address sustainability challenges“ (2020).
9 See for example: Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina; acatech – Deutsche Akademie der Technikwissenschaften; Union der deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften: Statement „Artenrückgang in der Agrarlandschaft: Was wissen wir und was können wir tun?“ (Halle 2018).