30 November 2018

European Commission long-term strategy on climate change underpinned by IIASA research

The European Commission has adopted a new long-term strategy, A Clean Planet for all, on how Europe can become climate neutral by 2050 and meet its Paris Agreement commitments, and IIASA research has contributed to the quantitative backbone.

© 7xpert | Dreamstime.com

© 7xpert | Dreamstime.com

The European Council invited the Commission to develop the strategy, which covers almost all EU policies. All signatories to the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, must submit their 2050 strategies by 2020. The Commission says that the purpose of A Clean Planet for all is to create a vision and set a direction to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It has invited other European institutions, national governments, NGOs, and citizens to consider and discuss the proposals. It anticipates that EU member states’ draft national climate and energy plans, which are due by the end of 2018, will take the new long-term strategy into account.

The strategy includes seven strategic priorities, including fully decarbonizing the energy supply and reducing energy consumption by half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. ‘Smart’ energy networks and infrastructure should be developed. The transport sector should also be decarbonized, through the use of electric vehicles and alternative fuels and encouraging shared mobility and the use of public transport. Industry should modernize with carbon neutral and circular economy-compatible technologies. Countries should also create natural carbon sinks, for example through more sustainable land use, and use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to deal with remaining emissions. 

IIASA researchers provided emission scenarios for non-CO2 greenhouse gases and for CO2 from the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector to the Commission as input to the analysis, including estimates of future mitigation potentials and costs for reducing emissions.  

Investigating non-CO2 emissions 

A team of researchers led by Lena Höglund Isaksson from the IIASA Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases (AIR) program,  used the GAINS model to model mitigation pathways and costs for non-CO2 emissions (methane, nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases such as HFCs) from various sources, including energy, industry, agriculture and waste, in the 28 EU countries. GAINS takes into account various EU policies, national legislation and voluntary agreements in its calculations.  

The team identified a number of mitigation options. Methane can be reduced for example by using anaerobic co-digestion of food waste and manure, extending leakage control of gas pipelines and distribution networks, and upgrading wastewater treatment. N2O emissions can be reduced through technology to minimize fertilizer application, and by controlling the direct use of N2O as propellant and in anesthetics. They also suggest a number of ways to replace HFCs with substitutes which have less of an impact on global warming. Mitigation can be technical, or behavioral, such as reducing meat and dairy consumption. If only technical mitigation policies are pursued, non-CO2 emissions could fall by almost 65% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. However if technical and behavioral mitigation policies are combined, emissions could fall by more than 75%. 

Höglund Isaksson and the AIR team also carried out an assessment of the air pollution impacts from decarbonizing the EU’s energy and transport systems.  

Assessing LULUCF emissions 

Stefan Frank from the IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM) program, led a team of researchers which used the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM) and the Global Forest Model (G4M) to model the mitigation pathways and costs for emissions from LULUCF. The researchers, including Mykola Gusti, assessed various options as to how the land use sector could contribute to achieving the EU’s zero emission target. They quantified the implications of different levels of bioenergy demand, feedstock mixes, and lifestyle changes on the sector. Results showed that the LULUCF sector could maintain and potentially even enhance the current carbon sink of around 320 MtCO2 until 2050 if sensible mitigation policies and lifestyle changes were realized jointly. 

“We assessed several land use pathways and their related impacts on emissions and other indicators for the European Commission. Maintaining or even enhancing the land use sink will be key to achieving the climate neutrality target, as this can offset residual emissions from other sectors,” says Frank. 

IIASA researchers also contributed to the previous European Commission climate proposals

“It is a successful collaboration that goes back a decade,” says Höglund Isaksson. “The AIR program has contributed non-CO2 modeling to all of the EU’s climate policy strategies since 2008.” 

The in-depth analysis, setting out the science and research behind the European Commission’s proposals, including the IIASA contribution, can be seen on the A Clean Planet for all information page.

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Last edited: 30 November 2018


Lena Höglund Isaksson

Senior Research Scholar Pollution Management Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program


Stefan Frank

Senior Research Scholar Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

A Clean Planet for all

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313