EU member states adopt flagship emissions reduction rules

Tom Brown


LONDON (ICIS)–EU countries on Monday gave final assent to the bloc’s climate change regulations, making targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 55%, relative to 1990 levels, within the next decade legally binding.

The EU Council set into law targets for the 27-country bloc to become climate neutral by 2050, following agreement by the European Parliament in April, as well as “aspirational” goals for the bloc to become carbon-negative after that date.

As well as the binding 2030 and 2050 targets, the European Commission – the EU’s executive body – is also expected to propose an intermediate emissions-reduction for 2040 within six months of the next stocktake of the Paris Agreement.

With many technologies required to reduce emissions in many industries, including the chemicals sector, still in the pre-commercial stage at present, some western lawmakers have forecast that a significant chunk of global progress towards the Paris targets will be achieved in decades to come.

At present, public and private emissions reductions are substantially lagging the level required to limit climate change to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Last year, global electric vehicle sales stood at 4.6% of  the total, far below the 50% that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates will be necessary to meet the 2050 targets.

The climate law will now be signed and published into the EU’s official journal, before formally entering into force.

The bill passed with a significant majority, with some Green Party Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) demurring on the grounds that the targets were insufficiently ambitious.

One of the world’s most energy-intensive sectors, accounting for 30% of total industrial energy use, the chemicals industry faces significant challenges to meet the decarbonisation challenge, while also pushing towards circular production.

The European Commission has set out a hydrogen strategy roadmap as a key part of decarbonising heavy industry in the EU, which envisages costs of up to €44bn in 2020-30 on new clean hydrogen power.

The high temperatures needed for the petrochemicals cracking process are currently impractical to accomplish with electricity, or sustainable biomass sources at present, according to the IEA.

Commodity and building block petrochemicals represent the biggest hurdle for the sector, with Germany-based major BASF estimating that the bulk of its total emission footprint is caused by 10 production processes, particularly steam cracking and ammonia manufacturing.

The company has set out plans to reduce emissions by 60% of 1990 levels by 2050, with power-to-steam technology, hydrogen, and new innovations  expected to make up the bulk of that reduction, which will have to offset the impact of the third Verbund complex BASF is building in China.

Speaking in his capacity as current president of EU chemicals trade group Cefic, BASF’s CEO Martin Brudermuller claimed that policy support and energy pricing are key to the chemicals sector successfully decarbonising.

“I think a key issue for me is energy pricing. Germany in particular has the highest energy prices in Europe, but many countries in the region have high costs compared to elsewhere,” he told ICIS in late 2020.

“I think if you look forward into this massive carbon neutrality transition, this can only be achieved with attention to energy pricing, because energy demand will grow tremendously for the new CO2-free technologies that we need.”

Front page picture: A pilot plant for CO2 capture in Copenhagen, 24 June 
Source: Ida Guldbaek Arentsen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

Focus article by Tom Brown


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