June 29, 2023

Carbon removal in the 2040 targets: the key to getting them right

Carbon Gap’s response to the 2040 climate target consultation

Key Takeaways

Key takeaways

  • The 2040 climate target is the key milestone on the path towards climate neutrality. In this context, carbon removal (CDR) is starting to be recognised as crucial to achieving this target by 2050 but more still needs to be done.
  • The EU should aim to achieve 95% net emission reductions by 2040 through a robust and sound combination of emission reductions and carbon removals. To this end, financial and political support must be given to a wide range of CDR options, and carbon removal should be mainstreamed across all relevant EU policies.
Reaching the EU 2040 targets requires carbon removal

The EU Climate Law requires the European Commission to propose a 2040 climate target by the first half of 2024. In a recent public consultation, the Commission started gathering input from climate and sectoral experts, NGOs and the public to inform its decision process before presenting a concrete proposal. Carbon Gap calls upon the EU to support carbon removal in the 2040 targets. 

The 2040 climate targets will be a crucial milestone on the road to climate neutrality to ensure that the EU is on track to achieving this 2050 goal.

Next to rapid and large-scale greenhouse gas reductions needed to meet this goal, carbon removals (CDR) will play a key role in climate change mitigation, and will need to be scaled up significantly and sustainably already this decade to ensure that sufficient removals are deployed in 2040, 2050, and beyond.

While awareness of the need for CDR is slowly increasing, more needs to be done to ensure that the EU is firmly on track to climate neutrality.

As it develops the next climate framework, the European Commission must not lose sight of the crucial role of carbon removal and ensure that it is integrated seamlessly in EU policies. Specifically, we urge the Commission to: 

1. Aim to achieve 95% net greenhouse gases (GHG) emission reductions by promoting a combination of emission reductions and carbon removals in the 2040 targets.

Given the need to drastically reduce GHG emissions and sufficiently scale up CDR, we advocate for the EU to set an explicit 2040 net emission reduction target of 95% compared to 1990, as advised by the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change.  

Underpinning this overall target, the EU should set separate twin targets for emission reductions and carbon removals, to ensure that efforts to reduce GHG emissions and scale up carbon removals are carried out in parallel and to avoid under or overreliance on carbon removal. 

The carbon removal target must be furthermore divided into two sub-targets, one for higher-durability carbon removal and another for lower-durability carbon removal in the land sector and wider biosphere. Specific sub-targets based on CO2 storage characteristics will enable the EU to realistically quantify CDR’s contribution to the 2040 and 2050 climate targets and reach “durable net zero”.

Illustrative pathway towards significantly reducing net emissions and reaching net zero in 2050, highlighting the roles of biogenic as well as geologic GHG sources and sinks (adapted from original source)


2. Mainstream carbon removal in the 2040 targets and across all relevant EU policies and secure financial and political support for a wide range of options.

Given the urgent need to roll out and scale up CDR, we call on the European Commission to systematically include climate generally, and carbon removals specifically, in existing and future relevant policies. This approach will help reduce conflicts among policy files and over resources, highlight potential synergies between climate and other objectives, and allow for a more holistic approach to EU climate action.  

Climate targets also require sufficient political and financial support to be meaningful and achievable. Therefore, the responsibility falls onto the European Union and its member states to take substantial political action to meet their targets. This includes supporting a wide range of CDR options to promote the most climate-positive and sustainable methods as well as modelling the projected overall cost of achieving the 2040 targets and providing an estimate of the financial resources needed to reach them.


3. Ensure a just and inclusive attainment of the 2040 targets.

All 2040 targets and the pathways to reaching them depend on, and should therefore ensure, a just and inclusive transition to climate neutrality. Costs and benefits of the transition need to be shared fairly in a way that enables EU citizens to thrive and are better off in 2040 than in today’s fossil fuel-dominated economy. Distributive justice, inclusivity and intersectionality must be the core tenet of the green transition.

Get engaged

The next months will be crucial to provide further input on the 2040 climate targets. Carbon Gap is fully committed to engaging in further discussions and calls on the European Commission to clearly define and support carbon removals as a necessary and complementary tool to the rapid and large-scale emission reductions for the EU’s 2040 and 2050 climate targets. When further defining the role of carbon removals within EU climate action over the coming decades, it will be crucial to enshrine political, legal, economic, social, and environmental factors in CDR sustainability guidelines, to guarantee the responsible deployment of a portfolio of carbon removals in Europe. 

By Verena Hofbauer, Researcher and Agnese Ruggiero, Associate Policy Director