Renewables groups in principle welcomed the proposal by the European Commission to raise the EU’s 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target to 55% – from 40% envisaged so far, but added more ambition is needed to reach the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Germany’s large renewable energies federation BEE called the proposal “a first step”, and some environmental groups, notably Greenpeace, called for a steeper reduction in emissions.

“The probability of being able to meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris climate agreement is, however, much higher if the proposals of the [EU's] Environment Committee or the scientific community had been accepted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 or even 65%,” said BEE president Simone Peter.

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The group representing Europe’s largest renewables sector also criticised a new clause contained in the commission’s proposal to allow to offset emissions with CO2 sinks, for example through a re-forestation of degraded agricultural areas.

"For the first time, adding the CO2 storage capacity of forests and soils to the climate target is a balancing trick and distracts from the actual task: The emissions of greenhouse gases must actually decrease," agreed Greenpeace climate expert Lisa Göldner.

"With the new CO2 target, the EU will not be able to keep its commitments to the Paris climate agreement. In terms of climate science, it is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions by 65% by 2030. "

Faster renewables build-up needed

Germany’s energy and water industries federation (BDEW) - which represents the wider energy sector - stressed that to reach the 55% target, the EU now needs to create the right framework conditions.

“The BDEW calls for more speed in the expansion of renewable energies and grid expansion, the creation of a European hydrogen market and stronger sector coupling,” BDEW managing director Kerstin Andreae said.

She added an important lever for cutting CO2 lies in the building and transport sectors, and said the EU should extend its carbon pricing to these two sectors, promote energy-efficient building renovation and climate-friendly mobility more than so far.

Stefan Thimm, managing director of Germany’s federation of offshore wind farm operators (BWO) urged his country’s government to use the momentum created by the proposal for steeper EU emission cuts and “create the necessary planning and financial security for future offshore wind projects”.

Now reach transport, heating and industry!

The call for a more radical ambition wasn't unanimous, though, comments by Eurelectric showed, which represents the larger European utilities sector.

“The new CO2 target for 2030 will put the EU on track to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement and make our continent the undisputed leader of global climate action,” said Kristian Ruby, secretary general of utility lobby Eurelectric.

“It is a very ambitious target. Meeting it will no doubt be challenging. It is critical that all sectors are obliged to deliver and that targeted efforts are initiated to accelerate electrification in transport, heating and industry.”

That was exactly what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had in mind when she proposed to create a new European Bauhaus art school to boost the energy transition in architecture and the building sector, or threw her support behind the build-up of a hydrogen economy in Europe.

Iberdrola: Green Deal as roadmap

Praise came also from from the solar sector and from Ignacio Galán, the chief executive of Spanish renewable energy titan Iberdrola, who said he welcomed the EU's climate ambition to continue to move firmly towards climate neutrality.

“We must continue to accelerate the transition to stimulate economic recovery. The best way to do this is to support forward-looking sectors that are promoting sustainable and quality employment, as well as seeking to reduce emissions and pollution,” Galán said.

“The EU was already promoting a sustainable growth strategy, based on the energy transition, and now we have a clear signal to speed-up this activity with the European Green Deal as a roadmap.”

Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of pan-European industry group SolarPower Europe, said raising the emissions cut target to 55% is "the kind of bold climate leadership that we urgently need, and offered the help of the solar sector.

"As the lowest-cost and most easily deployed clean energy technology, solar can not only contribute to this target, but through its job-intensiveness and scalability, can help ensure a green recovery and just transition for all Europeans.”

Polish refusal?

The EU commission’s 55% emission reduction proposal still needs to be approved by the European Council, which unites the heads of state or government of the 27 EU member states.

Von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech today said she will push for a deal in the council still this year.

But she is likely to meet opposition from Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland, who argue they can’t afford such a fast cut in emissions as their electricity mix still depends on coal to a large degree.

UPDATES to add comment by Iberdrola CEO Galán, and from the solar sector