Campaigners welcome a commitment to carbon neutrality by heavy industries but warn that the current plan lacks concrete policy proposals.

Europe’s most energy-intensive industries (EIIs) have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, outlining their masterplan to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities.

The document was published as the European Parliament declared a climate and environmental emergency in Strasbourg last Thursday, and just two weeks before the European Commission is expected to unveil a European Green Deal to decarbonise the bloc’s economy.

It was commissioned by the European Commission to a high-level group of industries such as cement, chemicals, ammonia and steel, which account for 14% of Europe’s total emissions. Representatives of governments, civil society, unions and think tanks were also invited to take part and provide feedback.

The group said that major public and private investments will have to go hand in hand with the development of new technologies in the next decade. Breakthrough technologies and funding are needed to ensure the full electrification of industrial processes and improvements in carbon capture and carbon storage. The industry also called for support in their efforts to boost the recovery and recycling of primary resources like steel and cement and the durability of products along the supply chain. 

The report also called on lawmakers to ensure the industry will retain favorable access to renewable energy and recycled materials. “Securing access to and availability of such sources at globally competitive prices is essential for the successful transformation of EIIs,” the group wrote.

“Revised state aid rules should stimulate further competition among various suppliers and bring further down the cost of renewable energy sources,” they added.

Finally, the industry recognised the importance of energy efficiency to ensure that limited resources continue to be used carefully. However, in the long term, the industry “might need growth-compatible policies that include the possibility to increase the energy consumption in some technologies.”

The NGOs’ reaction

The reaction of green groups to the industry’s masterplan was bittersweet.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the commitment on climate neutrality, recognising that both public and private investments must be scaled up to boost the uptake of renewable energy and support energy-intensive industries in the transition. Europe’s biggest network of green NGOs also praised mentions of the circular economy in the document.

However, the group pointed out the lack of concrete policy proposals in the text, warning that much more will be needed in the coming months to develop a real strategy. Davide Sabbadin from the EEB said the report fails to deliver a roadmap for the implementation of any measure and stressed that Europe must become carbon neutral before 2050 as recommended by the world’s leading scientists.

Another source of concern for the EEB is the excessive focus on future technological solutions such as hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS), which helps store carbon dioxide for a long period of time, and carbon capture and utilization (CCU), which helps capturing and recycling carbon dioxide for further use.

In response, Sabbadin said that “the Commission should look into the development of new measures without forgetting the potential of essential ones that have already proved their success. This is the case for energy efficiency, which must be the underpinning principle of energy policy.”

According to the EEB, additional public funding must be conditional upon the achievement of emission cuts, for which legally binding targets and timelines are necessary. This, alongside the phase out of environmentally harmful subsidies, would create a real incentive for industries to make the right investments while spurring innovation.

Similarly, Johanna Lehne from E3G noted that the strategy did not include clear targets. In a thread on Twitter, she said that the European industry “needs to recognise that decarbonising quickly will be the best way of preserving competitiveness in the long run.” “They’d better hurry up if they want to stay ahead,” she concluded.

Having received the blessing from the some of the most important industry groups in Europe, the European Commission is now expected to build on this document to start sketching its own strategy aimed at greening heavy industries. This strategy will be part of a broader industrial strategy and of the European Green Deal, which will be announced next week and further developed in 2020.

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