EU Climate Target for 2040: Why Change Cannot Wait

The European Union is now at a crucial point in its efforts to create a more sustainable future. To bridge the gap between its climate targets for 2030 and 2050, the EU is engaged in the development of a new set of environmental objectives to be achieved by 2040.

The upcoming climate legislation certainly has several European political and industry leaders holding their breath, but also stands as a significant global concern. In this article, we will dive into the core of the EU’s 2040 climate target, exploring the reasons behind the unexpectedly intense global debate surrounding what was initially an anticipated piece of legislation. Additionally, we will examine its potential impact on key economic sectors, such as fashion and textiles.

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Understanding the EU Climate Target for 2040

Following the release of the European Climate Law in 2021, the EU has been officially committed to two primary objectives: reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 55% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030 and attaining climate neutrality across the continent by 2050. The same document determined that additional intermediary milestones, to be achieved by 2040, should be established and presented in 2024, and that’s what the EU Commission is currently working on.

Why Create a Climate Target for 2040?

The primary reason behind the creation of a new intermediary climate target is quite straightforward: the gap between achieving a 55% reduction in emissions and attaining complete climate neutrality is substantial, and closing it will require a stepping stone.

By setting goals for 2040, the EU provides a more transparent outline of how it expects climate neutrality to be achieved. This, in turn, tells stakeholders what to prepare for and informs the development of their strategic plans to ensure compliance.

Furthermore, the inclusion of the 2040 target reinforces the EU’s worldwide leadership role in driving positive environmental change.

Europe has long served as a global role model when it comes to sustainability policy, and it is crucial for the block to constantly reaffirm how serious it is about realising the green transition within the established timeframe. Any sign of wavering in the EU’s commitment to fighting climate change would likely equal a big drop in other countries’ motivation to move forward in their own sustainability journeys.

The Challenges of Climate Target Setting

In addition to its role as a global sustainability model, the European Union faces the complex task of establishing its climate targets at an optimal level.

Even the briefest EU climate policy analysis will conclude that selecting the right target for 2040 is critical to the success of the Green Deal, and that arriving at the final figure will require a balance for European institutions.

On one side, the EU Commission is pressured by governments advocating for moderate goals, to avoid straining European businesses. On the other, environmental experts stating that only aggressive targets can effectively address the fast-growing detrimental effects of climate change.

To share the weight of this decision, the institution is enlisting the help of multiple stakeholders and the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change. Earlier this year, a public consultation opened a space for all interested entities to have their say on the subject, and the following figures were presented as options for the 2040 climate target:

  • A reduction of up to 65% in GHG emissions
  • Between 65% and 75% reduction in emissions
  • Between 75% and 80% reduction in emissions
  • Between 80% and 90% reduction in emissions
  • More than 90% reduction of GHG emissions

As with the 2030 target, the reductions proposed are in relation to the emission levels identified in 1990.

Considering all factors, it is unlikely that the EU Commission will favour either of the two first proposed goals, since they could mean setting the bar too low. The scientific board’s recommendation leans towards a 90% to 95% emission reduction target for 2040, aligning with medium and high-ambition options.

EU 2040 Climate Target: Implications for Fashion & Textiles

Standing among the heaviest polluters within the third-largest economy in the world, the European fashion and textile industries are always in focus when it comes to sustainability policy.

Aware of its impacts, the textile industry has positioned itself in favour of the Paris Agreement and of sustainability best practices proposed under recent legislative pieces, such as the EU Textile Strategy and the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation.

The Industry’s Main Concerns Around Climate Policy

That being said, these sectors also point out the need to adjust the upcoming legislation to drive change where it’s most needed.

Although fashion and textile companies do leave a significant carbon footprint within the Union, the bulk of GHG emissions is actually generated by its value chain, as a result of the manufacturing process. As stressed in our interview with the Sustainable Fashion Academy, industry experts, therefore, urge legislators to fully consider emissions outside of the block’s borders when elaborating new policies.

Since the highest emission rates stem from third-party countries responsible for fibre production, fabric preparation, dyeing and assembly, the fashion industry understands that the EU should work closely and alongside those nations to accelerate their green transitions. To that end, it would be essential for developing countries with prominent textile sectors to receive technical, financial and regulatory support from the EU and its Member States, as well as from international organisations.

Moreover, a tangible reduction in the fashion and textile industries’ footprint also depends on ensuring that such countries have access to renewable energy options at a competitive cost, when compared to their current fossil-based sources.

How Fashion & Textile Companies Can Prepare for What’s Coming

With the EU’s ambition to make fashion and textiles carbon-neutral by 2040, businesses must act proactively. As the Commission plans to propose the 2040 climate target by May 2024, engaging policymakers in Brussels is essential.

As recommended by industry-leader H&M Group during our recent interview, organisations should be proactively engaging with policymakers in Brussels to guarantee that upcoming proposals are built upon the insights of subject-matter experts. Additionally, fashion and textile companies have a wide range of industry-focused agencies and non-profit organisations they can collaborate with to share knowledge and develop sustainable alternatives for their current modus operandi.

Partnering with sustainability legislation experts aids businesses in navigating evolving EU policies, offering a competitive edge for strategic investment and future compliance.

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your sustainability strategy? Get in touch!

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