A Paris-compliant energy-only carbon budget for the EU27

i.e. what the EU climate law should have included

Authors: Kevin Anderson¹ ² ³ & Isak Stoddard² ³
(with acknowledgements to John Broderick¹)
@KevinClimate; @IsakStoddard

Institutional affiliation
1 Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Engineering, University of Manchester
2 Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS), Uppsala University
3 Natural Resources & Sustainable Development, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University

This briefing note provides a provisional Paris-compliant carbon budget range for the EU27, and offers both accompanying mitigation rates and reduction levels for 2025, 2030 and 2035. It demonstrates that the scale of mitigation required of the EU is an order of magnitude greater than that alluded to in the ‘business as usual’ climate law unveiled by the European Commission on 4/03/20.

The note previously provided the basis for a meeting (20/02/20) between Kevin Anderson and a senior climate and energy advisor to the EC President (Ursula von der Leyen).

The analysis within the note borrows from the approach developed in a peer-reviewed paper currently in press and due for publication in Climate Policy[i] in the coming weeks. Whilst the carbon budget range presented here is provisional, any subsequent refinement would see only marginal adjustment to the values.

Headline findings
[A]  The EU’s Paris-compliant and energy only carbon budget is a maximum of 27GtCO2
        (from 2020 onwards) i.e. under 9 years of current emissions

[B]  This equates to:
        • mitigation rates reaching 10% each year by 2025 and rising to 20% by 2030
        • a 70% cut in total energy CO2 by 2030 (compared with 2018, and 75% cf. 1990)
        • zero-carbon energy by 2035-40 ( across all sectors, including aviation and shipping)

Headline assumptions and conclusions
1) Take the Paris Agreement at face value i.e. “well below 2°C … and … pursuing 1.5°C”
• transposed into probabilities of >66% chance of 2°C (likely) & <33% chance of 1.5°C (unlikely)
• with equity (CBDR&RC[ii]) considered as a genuine commitment (i.e. wealthier nations lead on decarbonisation).

2) All calculations are informed by IPCC SR1.5 headline carbon budgets for the probabilities noted above.

3) The IPCC budgets (matching Paris) are adjusted for energy-emissions only and from the start of 2020. The headline global carbon budget is ~655GtCO2 (billions tonnes) – i.e. 18yrs of current CO2 emissions.

4) Returning to equity and CBDR; the analysis assumes poorer nations collectively peak their CO2 emissions by 2025, before beginning a programme of mitigation, rising year on year and reaching 10% p.a. by ~2040 and fully decarbonising in the early 2050s. This equates to between 520 and 560GtCO2[iii]. NB: this would still see the emissions per person-year for ‘developing country parties’ at a considerably lower level than that for ‘developed country parties'[iv].

5) This leaves ‘developed country parties’ a total carbon budget of between 95 and 135GtCO2 from 2020 onwards.

6) In dividing these budgets between all ‘developed country parties’, we judge ‘grandfathering’[v] as the most appropriate apportionment regime.

7) Building on the above data and assumptions, the EU27 has an energy-only carbon budget of between 21 and 27GtCO2, from 2020 to 2100 and beyond. This equates, at the most, to nine years of the EU27’s current emissions.

8) The larger 27GtCO2 EU budget relates to a constant mitigation rate of over 10% p.a., starting January 1st 2020. However, given it will take time to rapidly ramp up mitigation, and assuming mitigation rates of 2% in 2020 rising 10% by 2025, the rate needs to keep increasing to around 20% by 2030 if the EU emissions are to stay within the higher 27GtCO2 carbon budget value.

Why so different to other analysis?
1) We take the Paris equity steer into account (this is absent from most/all other energy-based budget analysis aligned with Paris and the IPCC SR1.5 budgets).

2) We have no reliance on future generations developing and deploying planetary scale ‘negative emission technologies’ so as to ease today’s mitigation challenges. Similarly, we also do not consider additional earth system feedbacks that are not already included in the SR1.5 budgets, and potentially set to require still more challenging mitigation rates.

NB: we are supportive of a major programme of Research, Development and potential Deployment of sustainable NETs and other ‘natural’ sequestration approaches[vi]. However, to assume they work at the levels included in virtually all IPCC WGIII scenarios (and most other outputs from large modelling groups) is a moral hazard par excellence. Global scale NETs are evoked to keep the mitigation agenda commensurate with the current political and economic growth paradigm. Remove the faith in NETs and most/all analyses for 1.5-2°C yield similar results to those outlined here.

To give a sense of the scale of the ubiquitous assumption on NETs; post 2050 the IPCC scenarios typically postulate a NETs industry similar in size to the current oil and gas industry. However, in 2020 such technologies remain highly speculative, with a few very small laboratory/pilot schemes now operating, with other proposed technologies still in the imagination of academics and tech-entrepreneurs. This faith in utopian technology reflects a deep and systemic bias that has hugely undermined the real scale of the mitigation challenge and misinformed policy makers for many years.


[i] Anderson, K., Broderick, J., & Stoddard, I. 2020. A factor of two: how the mitigation plans of ‘climate progressive nations’ fall far short of Paris-compliant pathways. Climate Policy. In press.

[ii] ‘Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDR&RC) is a principle enshrined in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. Put very simply, the wealthier “developed country parties” need to demonstrate leadership in delivering on mitigation, with the Paris Agreement expressly recognising that “that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties”.

[iii] the mitigation pathways derived in this analysis are far more ambitious than the aggregate of their National Determined Contributions (NDCs). For 2030, emissions implied by their NDCs are over 30% higher than those within our analysis. Moreover, these pathways and associated budgets are notably more ambitious than those linked to effort-sharing schemes (such as the climate equity reference project). This raises critical questions as to the mechanisms and scale of international financing necessary to support the more onerous developing country mitigation pathways.

[iv] This is the language adopted in the Paris Agreement to separate ‘developed’ from ‘developing’ nations when discussing issues of mitigation and financial transfers.

[iv] Grandfathering divides the budgets on the basis of the proportion of average annual emissions in recent years. The reasoning for this choice is detailed in [i].

[vi] Prior to any deployment, differentiation between the NET options would need to identify the range of social and environmental risks and impacts, and judge whether these are more or less acceptable than the implications of not deploying them.