Proposed EU emissions reductions targets to 2050 are likely to prompt chemicals producers to shift to new production processes such as renewable hydrogen or sustainable biomass-based feedstocks, according to the 28-country bloc's executive body.
European Commission's documents leaked to EU policy journal Euractiveb on Wednesday, ahead of the Commission’s anticipated announcements on climate change mitigation plans, include a variety of scenarios for emissions-reduction in the region, with the most ambitious plans aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050.
"Energy intensive sectors such as steel, cement and chemicals as well as car manufacturers will see a shift to new production processes with new skills required," the Commission said.
The scenarios are part of a raft of measures set out by the EU and other world governments to keep global warming levels within 1.5 degrees Celsius through to 2050.
The new documents map out eight different potential scenarios that EU capitals could adopt, with long-term plans to be finalised by early 2020.
The EU is “broadly” on track to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas, energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, according to the documents, and is finalising plans for 2030, by which the Commission intends to reduce emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels.
The new strategy does not represent the launch of new policies nor revise the 2030 targets, the Commission added, but is intended to set out an introductory roadmap to the changes the EU is likely to implement for the 2050 reductions agreed in the Paris Accord to be met.
“The status quo is not an option,” the Commission said in a communication to the European Parliament, Council, and European Investment Bank (EIB).
“Delivering on the transformation towards a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy thus requires early long-term planning, improving knowledge of the opportunities for transforming our entire economy and building trust within our society,” it added.
The transition toward a net-zero greenhouse gas economy is likely to fall heaviest on the energy sector, which is responsible for 75% of emissions in the EU, with shifts likely to be driven by smart networks, digitialisation and innovations in buildings and transport.
Renewable energy has already driven a sharp drop in EU emissions, with more than half of electricity supply in the region free from greenhouse gases, estimated to shift up to 80% by 2050.
Energy-intensive sectors are also likely to see significant changes, despite the Commission acknowledging that European manufacturing is under pressure “from developed and emerging economies”.
Hydrogen is likely to become increasingly prominent as a feedstock for the chemicals sector, as well as the transformation of carbon-free electricity into synthetic gases such as hydrogen and methane, the Commission said.
Carbon-free electricity-derived hydrogen, combined with carbon dioxide (CO2) from sustainable biomass, could create a carbon-neutral alternative of the same molecules as natural gas or crude oil, and be distributed by existing transmission systems, it added.
“Steel, cement and chemicals dominate industrial emissions. In the next 10 to 15 years, technologies that are already known will need to demonstrate that they can work at scale, and some of them are indeed already being tested at small scale,” the Commission said.
The EU's chemicals trade group Cefic was not available for comment at the time of writing.