The countdown to secure the future of humankind and Earth is more present than ever Thirty years are a relatively substantial chunk of anyone’s life, but not even a tiny blip in our planet’s timeline. However, our efforts in the next thirty years will be crucial in curtailing environmental degradation and ensuring the survival of life as we know it on our planet.
According to a 2019 UN report, by 2050, demographic growth and urban development will cause demand for natural resources to spike to levels that will be impossible to meet without changing current consumption and production patterns. And other projections for that same period are just as worrying. The same report says that “human illnesses due to antimicrobial-resistant infections may become a major cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide by 2050 “, as a result of antibiotics entering the water cycle due to human action.
2050: Climate neutrality goal
To keep the most pessimistic forecasts from coming true, international organizations are working on a number of action plans, including the European Green Deal, the initiative unveiled by the European Union in December 2019 to tackle the climate emergency. The deal presented an initial roadmap of the key policies and measures that Europe needs to lead the way towards climate neutrality and meet its 2050 deadline.
But, what does “carbon neutrality” mean? According to the European Parliament,climate – or carbon – neutrality is achieved when “the same amount of carbon dioxide is emitted (CO2) into the atmosphere as it is removed by different means, achieving a zero balance, also known as a zero carbon footprint.” The concept is not new. The 2015 Paris Agreement already mentioned the need to achieve climate neutrality by the end of the century, and what the EU plan is aiming for is to expedite the process by a few decades.
In Spain, in May 2020 began the parliamentary process of the first draft of the Climate Change and Energy Transition Act (PLCCTE), which, in line with the ambitious EU plan, seeks to ensure that Spain is carbon neutral by 2050.
Roadmap for a climate-neutral economy
To meet its ambitious goal to achieve a zero carbon footprint, the European Commission presented seven strategic building blocks that member countries must pursue together:
- Energy efficiency: Residential and service buildings account for 40% of EU energy consumption, so the renovation of the housing stock is critical to boost energy efficiency levels The scope of this action is especially noteworthy when taking into account that about 75 percent of all buildings in the European Union were built before current energy performance standards existed.
- Deployment of renewables: The goal is to reduce Europe’s energy dependence from imports from the current 55 percent to about 20% by 2050, by promoting the development of renewable energies. Besides its obvious environmental benefits, this move would also help boost energy security and domestic employment levels.
- Clean, safe and connected mobility: Transport currently accounts for a quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Curbing this substantial footprint will require prioritizing sustainable urban mobility alternatives, such as public transport or cycling, as well as improving existing vehicles and means of transport, favoring the use of low or zero emission technologies.
- Competitive industry and circular economy: The European Union is aware of the need to modernize industrial production in order to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. This includes recycling as a key element to promote an efficient use of resources, especially as regards sectors and technologies which depend on materials whose production is concentrated in a few countries outside the EU, such as cobalt or graphite.
- Infrastructure and interconnections: This point is closely related to mobility, due to the need to find synergies at European level to transform the transport sector. This includes the need to build pan-European energy networks.
- Bioeconomy and natural carbon sinks: Biomass can play a key role in replacing the most polluting materials in heat production applications, thanks to the possibility of transforming it into biofuels or biogas.
- Tackle remaining CO2 emissions with capture and storage: Finally, the European Commission stresses the need to promote research aimed at improving carbon capture and storage technologies. These technologies, capable of separating, storing and isolating the industry’s carbon emissions, are currently extremely expensive. Indeed a 2018 report by the Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Academies ruled them out as a solution to the climate problem. However, the European Union states that should be able to complement the key options described above in those cases where emissions are impossible to eliminate.