Till Eichler and Pepe Escrig / Jan 2024
The 2021 European Climate Law (ECL) mandated the establishment of the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change (ESABCC) to bring independent advice to EU decision-makers. Since its formal inception in 2022, the ESABCC has managed to emerge as a catalyser of science-based climate policy-making in Europe. By delivering independent and timely input to relevant EU policy debates, the Board has become a primary climate advisor at the EU level.
The ESABCC’s main initiative last year was the publication of advice on the EU’s 2040 climate target. The Climate Law obliges the EU to adopt such a target as a milestone on its path to climate neutrality, starting with a Commission positioning in the first half of 2024. The Board’s report was published during the Commission’s public consultation, marking the first time that an appointed scientific committee provided public and formal input into a climate target-setting process at the EU level.
The analysis calls on the EU to reduce 90-95% of GHG emissions by 2040 and suggests compensating for the excess of the EU’s fair share of global emissions through increased mitigation efforts abroad. Moreover, it identified reducing energy demand, decarbonising the power sector, scaling up renewables and boosting the electrification of industry and transport as no-regret options for the transition.
Most importantly, by analysing the implications of three alternative pathways to net zero, the ESABCC aims to enable well-informed political choices. For instance, the advice points to the positive implications of reducing energy and resource demand, which would both render the pathway to climate neutrality more feasible as well as maximise environmental and social co-benefits such as better health, higher energy affordability and lower water stress. On the flipside, delayed action and low ambition combined with high technological and environmental risks can lead to a lose-lose situation.
The advice gained visibility thanks to targeted engagement with decision-makers at the European and national level, which contributed to turning it into a crucial driver of the 2040 climate target discussions in the EU. As a result, Members of the European Parliament from the EPP, S&D, Renew and Greens/EFA publicly endorsed the ESABCC’s 2040 target advice in a joint statement. Subsequently, the European Parliament made an endorsement of this advice a requisite for approving the nomination of the Climate Commissioner for Climate, Wopke Hoekstra, and Commission Vice-President for the Green Deal, Maroš Šefčovič. Ultimately, both personally committed to a 2040 target of “at least” 90% during their hearings.
Overall, these recent developments show how the ESABCC is steadily becoming a reliable climate voice in the EU and has laid a solid groundwork to continue strengthening the role of scientific expertise going forward. But ultimately, its long-term impact hinges on the political will of policymakers and the role they allow it to play in practice. Soon we will find out whether the Board’s advice on the 2040 climate target not only drove the debate but also led to policy proposals aligned with science. The Commission plans to publish a Communication on the 2040 climate target already on 6 February 2024 and EU climate ministers will start debating the issue just one month later.
At a moment when the EU is starting to shape its agenda for the next five years, there is a risk of political rumbles hampering agreement on the EU’s future climate ambition. The ESABCC's independent advice on the EU's 2040 climate target can help prevent this by building common ground in divisive debates and empowering informed political choices that maximise co-benefits and minimise risks. Now EU policymakers have a unique opportunity to set a precedent for EU climate policy by placing the ESABCC’s advice at the core of political discussions and decisions this year.