EU Member States Plans Not Ambitious Enough to Meet EU Climate Goals

EU Member States Plans Not Ambitious Enough to Meet EU Climate Goals

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard European Union Manager Brittany Demogenes


One of the largest obstacles that threatens to prevent the EU from reaching its goals of a 55% decrease in emissions compared to 1990 levels and carbon neutrality by 2050 is the unwillingness of numerous Member States to do their part to achieve these goals. The previously enacted Regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action (EU 2018/1999) set out a process for Member States to prepare development strategies referred to as National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) by 2020 to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and these strategies are set to be revised every 10 years. However, an analysis performed by Climate Action Network (CAN) of 15 countries’ NECPs that were submitted before May 1, 2020, showed that the goals and plans outlined in numerous countries’ NECPs were not ambitious enough to achieve the necessary energy transition and pave the way for a climate neutral economy. Given that these plans were created in line with the previously less ambitious goal outlined by the EU of achieving a decrease in emissions of 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, this is especially concerning. There is a clear need for Member States’ NECPs to significantly improve in order for the EU to reach its climate targets. The COVID-19 crisis, and the short-term reduction in emissions that resulted from it, offers the potential for countries to develop plans to rebuild their economies that center around continuing to decrease emissions and environmental sustainability. Yet, there is also a prominent need for greater leadership on the part of the EU in providing detail about the policies and measures needed to deliver climate and energy targets and in ensuring that proper reporting mechanisms are implemented.

Climate Action Network highlights Denmark as a strong example of a Member State that has set ambitious targets that are in line with the EU reaching its climate goals. In Denmark, a Climate Law was agreed upon in December 2019 in which a 70% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030 was outlined as well as the requisite for the country to be in line with the Paris Agreement goals. This would insinuate that Denmark will have to decrease its emissions in non-Emissions Trading System (ETS) sectors by at least 50% by 2030.

Other countries have yet to pursue goals as ambitious as Denmark. CAN points out that Austria has failed to identify how it will achieve its binding targets for non-ETS sectors, since it does not currently have the policies in place necessary to reach its targets. Moreover, countries like Belgium, Romania, Croatia and Hungary have set emissions reduction targets too low in non-ETS sectors in order to decrease total emissions in the EU by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Hence, in order to overcome the obstacle of Member States not being willing to pursue the decrease in emissions necessary to reach EU climate goals and the Paris Agreement targets, it is crucial that the EU incentivizes Member States to comply with its environmental goals. This could be achieved in a variety of ways, such as the EU providing a greater amount of information on the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy sources, encouraging Member States to increase their energy efficiency and/or enforcing harsher measures that ensure that Member States phase out fossil fuel subsidies. These specific areas are especially important given that out of the 15 Member States CAN analyzed, only Greece went beyond the renewable energy recommendations issued by the European Commission in its final NEC. Belgium actually presented weaker energy efficiency contributions in its final NECP than it did in drafts and only Spain made limited progress in outlining how it would work to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. More ambitious renewable energy, energy efficiency and reduction of fossil fuel subsidy targets will be necessary for the EU to reach its 2030 and 2050 climate goals.

Another way that the EU could incentivize Member States to reach its climate goals is through restricting funding given to Member States who do not pursue more stringent climate targets. The EU has begun to do this; in negotiations finalized in July 2020, the conclusion was reached that Member States that fail to commit to implementing the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 will only be allowed to use 50% of the national allocation granted to them in the framework of the Just Transition Fund, which is part of the EU’s larger NextGenerationEU package. Yet, while this is a strong start, the EU could put more pressure on individual Member States by decreasing the percentage of the national allocation they will be allowed to use from the Just Transition Fund if they do not commit to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Moreover, the EU could also decrease funding that is set to be allotted to Member States in the NextGenerationEU package outside of the Just Transition Fund in order to incentivize compliance with EU climate goals.


Frans Timmermans

Executive Vice President of the EU

Learn More Resources:

“EU.” Pledges And Targets | Climate Action Tracker,

“National Energy and Climate Plans.” European Commission – European Commission, 5 Mar. 2021,

“Pave the Way for Increased Climate Ambition.” Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe and Zero-Association for the Sustainability of the Earth System, June 2020.

“Recovery Plan for Europe.” European Commission – European Commission, 1 June 2021,

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