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Europe and Italy’s progress towards European Green Deal targets

Ambitious targets for achieving climate neutrality by 2050 are not in all countries

Redazione di TheBlackCoffee

As 2019 came to a close, the European Commission introduced a series of proposals to help make Europe climate neutral by 2050. Most of the targets identified in this set of strategies and action plans point to 2030 as a key reference year. So, where do member countries stand today?

Working with seven other editorial offices that are part of the European data journalism network (EDJNet), under the direction of Deutsche Welle, we reconstructed the current status of European Green Deal goals in Europe, identifying the quantifiable targets envisaged by the EU and related indicators. By doing so, we can measure the progress of each country, as well as their prospects for the near future.

The 2030 Green Deal targets

The European Green Deal is the name given to the set of strategies and action plans that the European Commission has proposed to tackle climate change. It proposes a series of directives, regulations and initiatives aimed at various sectors affected by or responsible for climate change, and envisages investments of at least one trillion euro. Resources come largely from the long-term EU budget, but there is also substantial private investment.

The plan is very ambitious, mobilising considerable resources and, precisely because of its scope, constitutes a major challenge for the coming years.

There are, however, shortcomings. As Greenpeace has pointed out, the targets set at the European level may not be enough to achieve climate neutrality. This is further complicated by the fact that the overarching goal of the green deal, besides sustainability, is economic growth. As the European Environment Agency (EEA) emphasises, growth is in fact closely linked to increases in production, consumption and resource usage, and therefore inevitably has detrimental effects on the environment and human health.

That said, even if the targets were effective enough to reduce such environmental impact, Europe does not seem to be on track to achieve those targets within the set timeframe.

To carry out this research, Deutsche Welle identified seven basic metrics, selected by sector, and corresponding to the main targets identified by the European Commission itself. The first consists of a generic indicator for emissions, measured in tonnes of Co2 equivalent. The second concerns the use of renewable energy sources and measures both its share in final consumption and the capacity of installations. Another indicator concerns buildings, in particular heat pump installations. The last three are car emissions for the transport sector, pesticide use for agriculture and hydrogen production for industry.

The indicators for heat pumps and the output of wind and solar power plants are not official, but reconstructed based on the assumption of an overall temperature change of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Data on hydrogen production are not yet available.

Emission reduction targets

One of the most problematic aspects of the human impact on the planet is the emission of greenhouse gases. These are a set of pollutants that alter the balance of ecosystems, harming those who inhabit them. Deutsche Welle has therefore identified data on overall emissions as the most significant parameter for monitoring Europe’s progress in meeting Green Deal targets.

The latest proposal put forward by the European Commission aims to reduce emissions by 57 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This would mean a total consumption of 2,000 megatons (mt) of Co2 equivalent, compared to 4,687 in 1990. According to the most recent figures for 2021, the EU has reduced its total emissions by 29.3 percent compared to 33 years ago.

According to the EEA, with current measures, the total should reach 3,109 mt in 2030. That would be one thousand mt more than the target (2,000 mt) and a decrease of just 33.7 percent from 1990 levels. Europe therefore seems to be a long way from the target.

But let’s take a look at the data disaggregated by country (available by 2020) to see how much the situation has improved in individual member states. The picture that emerges is in fact quite varied.

Emission reductions in EU countries

Greenhouse gas emissions in EU Member States between 1990 and 2020, percentage change

Source: EEA

In all but 3 countries (Cyprus, Austria and Ireland) GHG emissions decreased between 1990 and 2020. In some cases the decline was more pronounced: in Malta it exceeded 90 percent and in Sweden it was close to 80 percent. But in the continent’s largest and most populous countries the reduction was smaller: 43% in Germany, 32% in Italy, 27% in France and just 5% in Spain.

However, it is important to stress that the 2020 figures may be misleading. This was in fact the year of Covid-19 lockdowns, during which many activities involving energy production or consumption came to a temporary halt. Overall, then, the drop is modest and far from the targets set by the European Green Deal. In fact, if we look at the variation between 1990 and 2019, instead of 2020, we see that Spain even saw an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (+14 percent) and that there are only three countries where the decrease exceeded 57 percent. These countries are Estonia, Romania and Lithuania, with reductions of over 60 percent.

Italy and European Green Deal targets

In Italy, greenhouse gas emissions are 32 percent lower in 2020 compared to 1990 levels. If we refer to 2019, then the reduction is 25 percent. But how does Italy perform when it comes to other targets?

As far as renewable energies are concerned, in 2022 the Commission set the goal of achieving renewable energy usage equal to 45 percent of total final consumption by 2030. In Italy, today, the share is 19 percent, according to Eurostat. This is just 6 percentage points more than in 2010 and slightly below the EU average of almost 22 percent.

Another element is the capacity of solar and wind power plants. To study this matter, Deutsche Welle used the estimates and projections of the Ember study centre. The unofficial target (since the Commission has not explicitly formulated one) would be to reach a wind power capacity of 476 Gw, and a solar power capacity of 600 Gw by 2030.

By 2021, Europe had reached 186.3 Gw of wind power and 110.7 Gw of solar power. Italy’s contribution was 11.3 Gw wind and 7.7 Gw solar, respectively. Wind power capacity in Italy increased by about 3 Gw between 2010 and 2021, while solar power more than halved, from 16.8 Gw in 2010 to 7.7 in 2021 (especially compared to 2020, when it reached 21.7 Gw).

Regarding the transport sector – a major contributor to air pollution – the target is to halve emissions from 2021 levels. This is in fact the last target proposed by the commission, in 2022. The goal is to then reduce emissions to zero by 2035.

One of the ways to reduce emissions in the transport sector, besides promoting the use of public transport, is the increased diffusion of low-emission cars – even though such vehicles present other infrastructural and environmental challenges, such as the construction and disposal of lithium batteries. In a recent article, Openpolis also talked about the lack of recharging stations in Italy. By now, the widespread diffusion of low-emission vehicles and the total removal of polluting ones seems to be an obligatory step for ecological transition. But in Italy there is still a long way to go.

According to ISTAT‘s latest update on urban environments, on average, in capital cities and metropolitan cities, the number of low-emission cars is still way lower than that of more polluting cars. The proportion of such vehicles has nevertheless increased compared to five years ago, when it stood at 8.9 percent. Geographical differences are notable. In the north-east of the country, the share is close to 19 percent, while on the islands it remains below 7 percent.

The provincial capitals where the spread of low-emission cars exceeds 20 percent are all in Emilia-Romagna and Marche, with the exception of Rovigo (in Veneto). First among them is Macerata with 27.1 percent.

The lowest quotas are recorded on the islands – especially Sardinia, where all chief towns have an incidence of less than 6 percent – and in the areas closest to the Alpine arch. In the north, particularly low values are reported in the provincial capitals of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Original source: Original source: EDJNet – The European Data Journalism Network/https://www.openpolis.it

Saturday, 27 maggio 2023 – n°21/2023

On the cover: photo by Demiahl/Pixabay

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