The European Commission on Tuesday recommended the bloc cut its net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 90% by 2040 – but went easy on farming – as it looks to become the first continent to reach net-zero emissions.

The long-anticipated target was formally announced by the Commission to shape the EU’s path after 2030 and ensure it meets the net-zero emissions by 2050 goal.

In the three decades between 1990 and 2021, the EU27 have cut their emissions by 30%, according to the European Environment Agency, leaving them with half as long now to cut twice as much.

“We need to make sure we have a balanced approach,” EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told the European Parliament as he unveiled the proposal. “The vast majority of our citizens sees the effects of climate change, does want protection but is also worried about what that implies for their livelihood.”

The EU already has a target to reduce net GHG emissions by 55% by the end of the decade. To achieve the 2040 goal, the Commission also set out a string of policy conditions alongside the 90% recommendation. These include a full implementation of the 2030 framework, ensuring the competitiveness of the European industry, and a greater focus on a just transition.

Domestic manufacturing capacity of energy transition technologies including batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar PV, carbon capture and storage, biogas and biomethane, must also increase, the Commission said, as it looks to reduce the bloc’s dependence on Chinese supply chains.

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By GlobalData

The EU expects its energy sector to achieve “full decarbonisation” just after 2040, well ahead of the 2050 deadline, the Commission said, by reducing its use of fossil fuels in the sector by 80% by 2040 compared with 2021 levels.

Final recommendations for the reduction of GHG emissions from agriculture were weakened after weeks of protests by farmers across the continent. Farmers have been demanding more government support, including tighter controls on produce coming from non-EU countries.

Leaked drafts of the Commission’s 2040 recommendation prior to Tuesday said non-CO₂ GHG emissions from agricultural activity would have to drop by 30% by the end of the next decade compared with 2015 levels. This target was removed from the final draft.

Proposals for a reduction in the use of pesticides have also been removed from the final document. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said further conversations were needed before a new proposal on this could be put forward.

The 90% by 2040 climate target is based on a Commission impact assessment and the advice of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change. A new Commission and Parliament after EU elections in June are expected to make a legislative proposal to include the recommended 2040 target in the European Climate Law.