The European Commission (EC) has unveiled plans to cut greenhouse gases by 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) — up from the previous 40% goal, as part of the bloc’s European Green Deal plan to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

“For us, the 2030 target is ambitious, it’s achievable and it is beneficial for Europe,” said EC President Ursula von der Leyen.

The impact on the oil & gas industry could be significant. The commission wants one million electric-vehicle (EV) charging points installed across the EU by 2030, and is proposing tighter emissions standards for cars, adding shipping and possibly road transport to the EU carbon market and undertaking a review of fossil-fuel taxation.

“I recognise that this increase from 40 to 55 is too much for some and not enough for others. But our impact assessment clearly shows that our economy and industry can manage this,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in her State of the Union speech.

Investments in clean energy will have to increase by about €350bn ($444bn) a year to meet the objective, with renewables providing 38-40% of the power mix by 2030, according to the EC. The bloc is on track for a 33% renewables share by that date, against an existing 32% goal.

Revisions will also be needed on EU directives on renewables, energy efficiency, energy taxation and the bloc’s Emissions Trading Scheme carbon market before “next summer”, she explained.

“Meeting this target would put the EU firmly on track for climate neutrality by 2050 and for meeting our Paris Agreement obligations. If others follow our lead, the world will be able to keep [global] warming below 1.5°C.”

Von der Leyen explained that 37% of the €750bn post-Covid economic stimulus fund, NextGenerationEU, will be spent on European Green Deal objectives, and that 30% of the €750bn will be raised through green bonds.

She also called for NextGenerationEU money to be spent on industrial “hydrogen valleys” where clean H2 would be produced and used at scale, installing EV charging points, and to reduce emissions from buildings through a “renovation wave”.

Later in her speech, she said the EU would need to introduce a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism that would charge import taxes on carbon-rich products made outside the bloc. She said this “should motivate foreign producers and EU importers to reduce their carbon emissions, while ensuring that we level the playing field in a WTO-compatible [World Trade Organization] way”.

The EC would like the heads of state of the 27 EU nations — who collectively make up the European Council, the bloc’s highest decision-making body — to approve the plans by the end of this year.  It is not immediately clear if all of them would do so.

In July, the environment ministers of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia — countries that are economically reliant on polluting industries such as coal, steel and cement — wrote a letter to the EC arguing that any new climate targets need to be “realistic” and take into account “the real social, environmental and economic costs for us all”.

It may be the case that these nations would only sign up to the emissions target if they are heavily compensated by the EC's €40bn Just Transition Fund, which has been set up to help regions with the greatest energy-transition challenges.

Von der Leyen was clear on this matter in her State of the Union speech: “We have a solemn promise to leave no-one behind in this transformation. With our Just Transition Fund we will support the regions that have a bigger and more costly change to make.”