Fit for Flop or 55? How lessons from the National Energy and Climate Plans can help achieve a climate-neutral Europe

To create a climate-neutral future and ensure consistency with the Commission’s Fit for 55 package, EU Member States need to step up their ambition with National Energy and Climate Plans. To change this, the final report of the PlanUp project scrutinises the upcoming revisions of the regulation frameworks and gives recommendations to ensure consistency with the higher EU climate goals to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

At the announcement of the European Green Deal in 2019, European Commission President hailed it as Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment, highlighting the ‘need to act’, rather than provide more empty promises. Since then, many new pledges and targets have been set, but action remains a scarce commodity.

To turn the Green Deal’s climate ambitions into reality, the EU has adopted a new climate goal of “at least 55%” net reductions by 2030. This requires revision of all relevant EU climate and energy legislation, which will be presented under the so-called “Fit for 55” package, scheduled for this July.

Aiming for a higher climate target means aiming for more ambitious National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) within the EU Member States. To match the new ambition, it is crucial that the revision of the climate legislation framework leads to more effective and strengthened regulations, in particular, the Effort Sharing Regulation and the Governance Regulation.

Governance Regulation: Stronger requirements for more tangible and comparable plans

The Governance Regulation, which requires each Member State to establish 10-year National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), sets a solid base for mid-to-long-term energy and climate policy. However, it was not designed to support the higher climate ambition set out by the EU Green Deal. 

The regulation should demand more targeted improvements from the Member States. Specifically, the level of detail required in the NECPs should be higher, leading to more tangible and comparable plans. A complete plan should explain each measure in its entirety, including details on impact, geographical applicability, and consistency with other policies. It should also include long-term decarbonisation pathways with intermediary milestones, to name a few. 

Successful stakeholder participation is key to an inclusive plan. It ensures stronger support for the final policies and measures. To achieve this, the Regulation should require stricter provisions for early and effective public participation as well as specific requirements to enhance stakeholder engagement overnments should  provide an accessible and clear timeline of their NECP drafting and update process so as to improve overall transparency. 

Another valuable component to facilitate stronger stakeholder engagement around the NECPs is the creation of  multilevel stakeholder dialogues, which aims for further transparent and inclusive exchanges among stakeholders. At present, the law does not oblige governments to discuss NECPs in the framework of their multilevel climate and energy dialogues. To overcome this, creation of the multilevel dialogues should be mandated in the Governance Regulation with the requirement for Member States to discuss both NECPs as well as long-term strategies in this framework. 

Effort Sharing Regulation: Increased targets in line with a 65% emission reduction objective by 2030

One of the main pillars of the EU’s climate policy framework, the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), sets nationally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions for each Member State for sectors not included in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). 

To achieve EU’s new climate goals, the nationally binding emission reduction targets should be strengthened. This means closing the loopholes, such as the possibility to use forestry credits and introducing non-compliance fines for the Commission to take action against inadequate Member States’ plans.

What remains particularly important, is keeping the transport and building sectors within the scope of the Effort Sharing Regulation. Accounting together for almost 60% of the total domestic EU emissions, emission curbing solutions for these sectors should stay within national governments as they are naturally in the best position to tailor policies impacting citizens’ daily lives. Shifting the responsibility from Member States to an EU-level carbon pricing scheme on transport and buildings would face shortcomings and be at risk to become socially unfair.

A weak legislative framework with no specific reduction target for agricultural emissions explains the lack of attention given to the sector in the NECPs. Overall, countries seem to rely on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with either negative or at best neutral impact on GHG emissions. When considering that agriculture causes 54% of the EU’s methane emissions, it is crucial to incorporate strong greenhouse gas emission reductions into the plans.

Last but not least, evidence collected during the PlanUp project shows that the climate would benefit from making both renewable energy and energy efficiency targets legally binding. Cancellation of nationally binding targets for renewable energy has clearly not incentivised the uptake of renewable energy sources and therefore it is crucial to introduce mandatory targets for it.

Concrete action instead of just promises of ambition

Tackling the impacts and challenges of climate change requires major reductions in carbon emissions across all sectors of the economy. If Europe wants to be a frontrunner in the fight against climate change, it is time to start aiming higher. But Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment will need more than ambition, it will need real action.

To avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis, the EU should reduce its emissions by at least 65% by 2030. Therefore it is crucial to revise the climate legislation framework, especially the Governance and Effort Sharing Regulations, with the ambition for more effective and strengthened regulations. The necessary changes proposed to the revisions will result in better policies for accelerated climate action.

Read our publication Fit for (Flop) 55: Lessons from the National Energy and Climate Plans to achieve a climate-neutral Europe here.