‘Fit for 55%’: what is it and what does WWF want?

Posted on March, 01 2021

Despite the name, this is not an exercise campaign for baby-boomers. Rather, it is Brussels’ crucial upcoming package of revised climate and energy laws.
The ‘55’ refers to the 55% net emissions reduction target for 2030 that EU leaders signed off on last year. The aim of the ‘Fit for 55’ package is to update the EU’s 2030 climate and energy laws to reflect this higher target. 

However, while the 55% net target is an increase on the EU’s previous 40% level, the science shows it is still far too low to keep rising global temperatures to 1.5°C and hopefully avoid catastrophic impacts. 

Indeed, the fact that the EU decided to make this a ‘net’ emissions reduction target - for the first time ever - means the actual impact it will have on the polluting gases being produced is even less - probably around 50-53%. This is because the carbon absorbed by trees will be factored into the final result. 

WWF has been calling from the start for a 65% emissions reduction target for 2030, with a separate target for carbon removal by natural ‘sinks’ like forests.

If we don’t have this overall 65% target, or the 60% that the European Parliament is calling for, it is even more important that the revised laws of the ‘Fit for 55’ package do the legwork, and really push the massive emissions reductions and climate action we need.

So, what will the package include, and what does WWF want to see, in order to turn ‘Fit for 55% into ‘Fit for 1.5°’?

Energy Efficiency Directive

The EU’s dictum is ‘energy efficiency first’, and this makes sense - using less energy saves us money, helps those who struggle to heat or power their homes, doesn’t add to grid infrastructure needs, and above all avoids burning dirty fossil fuels. 

What doesn’t make sense is why the EU’s current energy efficiency target is in this case only 32.5% for 2030. WWF is calling for this target to be increased to 45% at least, to reap the many benefits to citizens and the climate. 

Renewable Energy Directive

Switching to renewable energy is crucial for fighting climate change. But the EU’s renewable energy target for 2030 is currently only 32%. This needs to be revised upwards, to at least 50%, to ensure it contributes as much as possible to reducing emissions. 

But it is crucial that only sustainable and genuinely climate-friendly renewables like wind and solar power are counted towards the target. This means changing the current rules, which consider that burning trees for energy is ‘renewable’ and eligible for support from public money. Scientists agree that burning trees for energy is a huge climate risk, because doing so releases their stored carbon emissions, and replacement trees do not grow fast enough to capture those emissions in time to stop dangerous global warming. WWF wants an end to incentives for tree and crop burning under the Renewable Energy Directive.

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation

The most important way to fight the climate crisis is to cut the amount of greenhouse gases we pump out in the first place. However, trees and nature are also an essential part of the solution as they can absorb a certain amount of the carbon dioxide we’ve already put into the atmosphere. 

Currently, the LULUCF rules only say the amount of carbon absorbed by the sector must not be less than what is emitted by the sector. The revised Regulation needs to help boost natural carbon absorption by setting a target for it. The EU has already committed in its Biodiversity Strategy to set nature restoration targets for 2030 this year, including forests, and this will help carbon absorption. WWF is calling for nature restoration targets to cover 15% of EU land and sea.

The Effort-Sharing Regulation

The EU’s Effort-Sharing Regulation (ESR) sets national targets for emissions reduction in sectors like transports, buildings and agriculture. There have been rumours that the ESR could be done away with or reduced, but that would be terribly damaging to EU climate action - which is what tens of thousands of citizens told the EU Commission. 

It is crucial that the ESR keeps its current form, and that the national targets within it are increased.

The Emissions Trading System

The EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) is a carbon market which covers the sectors not included under the ESR (see above!) like power and heavy industry. The aim is to put a price on carbon so it is cheaper for polluters to reduce their emissions rather than pay to emit. However, the carbon price has never been high enough to make a real difference. Recently it’s got a bit higher, but there are still major flaws in the ETS, notably the fact that a lot of pollution permits are still given out for free, making them worthless. 

WWF is calling for a much tougher ETS and for free pollution permits to be phased out in favour of 100% auctioning, so that polluters pay the real cost of their carbon emissions. And if the EU brings in a carbon price on some products imported into the EU to compensate for the emissions associated with them where they were made (known as a ‘Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism’ or CBAM), this CBAM must also be clear that free pollution permits will be phased out, and set a date for doing so. This is because otherwise European heavy industry will not only have free ETS permits, but a double advantage due to the higher prices imposed on imports. 

What’s more, the income generated by the ETS - which goes to Member States, and came to €13.9 billion in 2018 - should all have to be spent on climate-friendly sectors, and in a way that is socially fair. Importantly, this means no ETS money - or indeed, any public money in the EU - should go towards fossil fuels.

Currently, the 'Fit for 55' package is expected in June 2021.

Do you have questions on Fit for 55 and WWF’s work? Let us know! 
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