Building blocks for a climate-neutral Europe

Chris Simoens
26 March 2019
The European Commission has developed a detailed strategy in order to be climate neutral by 2050. How does it intend to achieve this objective?

The European Commission has presented its strategy in a 393-page document. In our article ‘EU climate neutral by 2050’, we have provided a general insight into this strategy. Here we present a number of elements for each sector that illustrate how the Commission aims to become climate neutral. As it is impossible to cover every aspect, we aim to give an overview of what the Commission is committed to achieve. Each sector will have to make an effort and all pieces of the puzzle will be necessary.


Electrical power

  • Renewable energy - sun, wind, geothermal, ocean, etc. - enables the energy system to be ‘electrified’ on a large scale. This can be applicable to the end user (industry, buildings, transport), or to the production of carbon-free fuels (‘e-fuels’) and raw materials for industry.
  • Electricity can be stored in (improved) batteries and hydrogen gas.
  • All electricity must be the result of zero carbon production by 2050, more than 80% of which must be derived from renewable sources.
An electric car at the charging station
© Shutterstock


  • The majority of industry’s greenhouse gases come from heating: steam, hot water and high-temperature processes. These can be reduced by (1) increasing efficiency and (2) switching to low or zero carbon energy sources (electricity based on renewable energy, sustainable biomass, synthetic fuels and hydrogen gas).
  • A quarter of industrial emissions comes from processes such as chemical reactions other than combustion. These can only be reduced by renewing the processes and by capturing and storing the emitted carbon (see below).
  • An increased focus on reuse and recycling (‘circular economy’) and a better alignment of the different sectors. This is certainly essential for critical materials such as cobalt, rare earths and graphite. As a result, the EU will be less dependent on other countries.
  • The use of new materials (such as composites, the production of which requires less energy, and bioplastics) and traditional materials such as wood. By using a stronger cement the required quantities decrease.
  • The replacement of fluorinated gases used for cooling in refrigerators, cooling installations and air conditioning by climate-neutral gases. The phasing out, by 2019 for the rich countries and by 2028 for the poor countries, has already been regulated internationally.
  • Industrial installations must be upgraded or completely replaced (= the ‘next industrial revolution’).
  • Consumers can demand climate and environmentally-friendly products and services.


Many bikes in Amsterdam.
© iStock


  • A profound change in the transport system through (1) overall vehicle efficiency, low and zero-emission vehicles (electric) and infrastructure; by (2) switching in the long term to alternative, net-zero carbon fuels (hydrogen gas, bio-methane, e-fuels, etc.); and through (3) a more efficient transport system including the use of digitisation, smart pricing and self-propelled cars.
  • An increased use of low-carbon public transport, shared cars and zero-carbon mobility (e.g. walking and cycling), living closer to work, etc.
  • Transport via drones and bicycles.
  • Making rail traffic (both for goods and passengers) more attractive as compared to air traffic by taking into account the external cost such as the damage to the environment; high-speed trains should become an alternative to aircraft for short- and medium-distance trips. This requires changes in the infrastructure (‘Trans-European core network’ (TEN-T) and ‘European Railway Traffic Management System’ (ERTM)).
  • Making transport by water more attractive, electrification of shipping over short distances, etc.
  • More efficient air traffic, use of e-fuels, fewer business trips thanks to video conferencing, etc.
  • More efficient batteries allowing longer distances to be covered (trucks, aircraft, etc.).
Drip irrigation of grapevines in Spain
© iStock


  • Agriculture is the main source of non CO2 greenhouse gases in the EU (methane, nitrous oxide). This is unavoidable.
  • Focus on precision agriculture and digitisation for highly targeted irrigation and fertilisation.
  • Adapted tillage for more carbon storage (no ploughing, ground covers, etc.), anaerobic fermentation (without oxygen) of manure and agricultural waste for biogas and electricity production, adapted cattle feed for lower methane emissions and so on.
  • Production of fertilisers and fuels based on renewable energy.
  • Reduced meat consumption combined with livestock reduction.
  • Mixed systems such as agroforestry (trees together with crops and/or cattle) and ‘cattle & crop’.
  • Increased use of inland waters and seas for the production of algae and other protein-rich food.
  • Agriculture can supply material ('biomass' such as wood and hemp) for biofuels, biogas and insulation.



  • Extensive insulation of buildings, better insulation materials and rationalising energy consumption (lower the heating slightly, only heat the necessary rooms, etc.).
  • Smart applications such as heating your home more efficiently through your smartphone.
  • Complete conversion to renewable heating sources: electricity, heating networks (from incinerators, residual heat from companies...), solar thermal, renewable gas such as biogas, hydrogen gas and e-methane (based on renewable electricity). The advantage of renewable gas is that the existing gas networks can be retained.


Reforestation of a piece of land.
© iStock

Natural and artificial carbon storage

  • A certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions will always remain. That is why natural and artificial carbon storage is needed. Even today, CO2 can be extracted directly from the air using very large blades ('direct air capture').
  • Reforestation or restoration of degraded forests, restoration of wetlands and peatlands...
  • Re-use of abandoned agricultural land for the production of wood or other materials.
  • Better tillage (non-ploughing, soil cover, compost and organic matter...) allows the soil to retain much more carbon.
  • CO2 can be used as a raw material for plastics, building materials and synthetic fuels, etc.
  • CO2 can be stored permanently in the soil.
  • A lot of research and demonstration tests are still needed.


The EU strategy is not based on a future ideal world where the majority of the inhabitants are vegetarian or make only short trips. This means that the individual citizen, through his/her choices, has a ‘power’ that is by no means negligible.

Of course, governments and companies must offer an appropriate framework and products. Nevertheless, the choices made by individual citizens can certainly influence evolution. For example, by asking for climate and environmentally friendly products, by eating less meat, by travelling less by car, by travelling less often, less far, slower and longer. Only by making joint efforts, can we achieve the climate objectives.


Read also the article ‘EU climate neutral by 2050

Other tracks


Other organisations have also worked on strategies to combat global warming. Here, we mention 2 of them. The European Climate Foundation a 'foundation of foundations' has a specific focus on Europe.


Drawdown, an initiative by Paul Hawken, presents the 100 most efficient measures on its well-organised website. The top 5 include (1) replacing fluorinated refrigerant gases with climate-neutral gases; (2) onshore wind energy; (3) avoiding food waste; (4) a more plant-based diet; and (5) restoring and conserving tropical forests.

Climate European Union
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