• Evolución de la desigualdad en tiempo real y efectividad del estado del bienestar para amortiguar el impacto de la crisis

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    Desigualdad

    Oriol Aspachs (CaixaBank Research), Ruben Durante (ICREA-UPF, IPEG y Barcelona GSE), Alberto Graziano (CaixaBank Research), Josep Mestres (CaixaBank Research), Jose G. Montalvo (UPF, IPEG y Barcelona GSE) y Marta Reynal-Querol (ICREA-UPF, IPEG y Barcelona GSE).

    Oriol Aspachs
    Alberto Graziano
    Josep Mestres Domènech
    España
    Desigualdad
    COVID-19
    Desigualdad
    Políticas económicas contra la COVID-19
    Crisis COVID-19: perspectivas económicas
  • The Recovery Plan for Europe: a green wave for the real estate sector

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    Europe’s economic response to the COVID-19 crisis took shape in July: the European Council approved the Recovery Plan for Europe, the so-called NGEU, via which the European Union will grant up to 750 billion euros to its member states to stimulate their economic recovery after the shock of the pandemic. This is an unprecedented agreement and it could have a considerable impact on Europe’s real estate sector since one of the EU’s main goals, to which this Recovery Plan aims to contribute significantly, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. It is clear that renovating Europe’s buildings, which are responsible for 40% of the continent’s energy consumption, will be key to achieving this climate target.

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    How the Recovery Plan works and the climate challenge

    Between 2021 and 2026, the main component of the NGEU, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, will allocate up to 312.5 billion euros via grants and 360 billion in loans to member states, depending on their size and how severely they have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. According to the European Commission’s own estimates, Spain and Italy may receive around 60 billion euros (4.8% and 3.7% of their GDP, respectively)1 from the Facility; France, approximately 30 billion (1.3% of GDP); Portugal, 13 billion (6.2% of GDP) and Germany around 20 billion (0.6% of GDP). To access these funds, EU countries must draw up National Recovery and Resilience Plans and specify both the investment projects they will finance with the funds and the reforms accompanying them. These projects and reforms should contribute to four general goals: i) Promote economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European Union, ii) Strengthen economic and social resilience, iii) Mitigate the social and economic impact of this crisis, and iv) Support ecological and digital transition. In addition, each recovery and resilience plan should also allocate a minimum of 37% of its expenditure to climate-related aspects.2

    • 1. The 72 billion euros that Spain expects to receive from the EU includes 12.5 billion from the REACT-EU fund.
    • 2. For more details, see the article «Everything you ever wanted to know about the European Recovery Plan but were afraid to ask», available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/public-sector/everything-you-ever-wanted-know-about-european-recovery-plan-were?987=
    Europe’s NGEU Recovery Fund has a large amount of funding

    and could be an important means of renovating Europe’s buildings, a sine qua non for achieving the agreed emission targets.

    Renovating Europe’s buildings: a key goal

    The European Commission has identified the renovation of Europe’s buildings as one of its priorities for the ecological transition. More than 200 million buildings, representing 85% of Europe’s total, were built before 2001 and most of them are not energy efficient. The following chart shows that in many countries, especially Spain, there is still much work to be done to improve the average energy efficiency of housing. The current renovation rate is too slow to meet the target of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030. According to the Commission, around 90 billion euros per year of European private and public investment is required to achieve the target renovation rate.

    Share of housing by efficiency rating

    Percentage of national housing by EPC efficiency rating (%)

    p 18

    In view of this situation, the European Commission recommends that renovating housing be one of the priorities of the national recovery and resilience plans. Such renovations could simultaneously help to achieve the two European goals of ecological transition and digitalisation of the economy, for instance through "smart" buildings that are more energy efficient and can even produce their own energy.

    p 19

    As a result, Germany, France and Spain have already announced a number of renovation projects which they hope to finance via European funding. In Germany, the government has stated that it would increase funding for its energy renovation programme for buildings from the initial 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion euros, and has also announced the creation of a new 2 billion euro programme to adapt municipal buildings applying climate-friendly criteria. France’s Plan de Relance includes 6.7 billion euros between 2021 and 2022 to renovate private housing, SME premises, public buildings and social housing.

    The following article looks at how Spain will use these European funds to finance a drive to renovate its buildings.

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  • NGEU: an opportunity to relaunch Spain’s real estate sector

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    The Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) for the Spanish economy could be an important catalyst for the real estate sector. With the help of European funds, the government plans to recondition half a million homes between 2021 and 2023, with the aim of improving their energy efficiency and thereby helping to achieve the agreed decarbonisation targets. The General State Budget (PGE) also proposes a notable increase in the funds allocated to increase the amount of rented social housing, a policy that is crucial as rents have become even less affordable for the most vulnerable members of the population.

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    Next Generation EU: a historic opportunity for the Spanish economy

    The European Recovery Fund (Next Generation EU) represents a unique opportunity to modernise the Spanish economy and boost its growth potential. Spain will receive 72 billion euros in non-refundable transfers (grants) between 2021 and 2026, equivalent to 5.8% of its GDP in 2019.1 Although the first instalment from the European Commission is not expected until mid-2021,2 the government plans to advance funds to speed up investments and expects to spend over 26 billion euros in 2021, according to the preliminary proposal for the General State Budget. As we shall see, a significant proportion of these funds will be used to support the real estate sector’s ecological and digital transition.

    • 1. This amount could total 140 billion euros if loans are included. For more details, see «Next Generation EU: a golden opportunity for the Spanish economy», available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/public-sector/next-generation-eu-golden-opportunity-spanish-economy?index=
    • 2. The EU is expected to pay out the first tranche of the funds, 6.4 billion euros, in Q3 2021.
    NGEU and the Spain’s Budget for 2021: a significant amount allocated for housing policies

    In the area of housing, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan presented by the Spanish government to channel European NGEU3 funds focuses especially on the plan to renovate housing and urban regeneration. This policy is well aligned with the goals set by the Commission as renovating Europe’s buildings is one of its key priorities.4 The PRTR emphasises the importance of improving housing quality and boosting the construction industry both sustainably (by increasing energy efficiency, promoting green infrastructure and deploying solar roofs) and digitally (through smart applications in buildings). Specifically, the PRTR plans to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This is an ambitious target which, if achieved, would be very positive for the sector as well as for the environment given the current state of housing, as we will see below.

    • 3. In October, the government presented an outline of the Plan with the main proposals. The final plan must be submitted to the European Commission by 30 April 2021 and is expected to be approved by the European Council in June 2021.
    • 4. See the article «The Recovery Plan for Europe: a green wave for the real estate sector»" in this Sector Report.
    About 6% of the European NGEU funds

    will be allocated to renovating housing, tripling public investment in this area.

    According to the Ministry of Territorial Policy, 4.5 billion euros of the NGEU (6.25% of all transfers) will be allocated to renovating housing over the next few years. In 2021, as stated in the PGE, around 1.65 billion euros will be channelled from the NGEU to finance housing and development policies. If this comes about, the amount alone would represent more than three times the housing items included in the country’s budgets on average over the past five years, ranging from 460 to 510 million euros per year. Furthermore, this amount represents 73% of the total allocation in the 2021 Budget for housing policies (2,253 million euros) and 6.2% of the aforementioned 26,634 million euros of the European NGEU funds that are expected to be paid out in 2021.

    The 2021 General State Budget allocates 2,253 million euros for housing,

    of which 1,651 million euros come from the European funds and will be used to recondition housing, while 569 million euros will be invested in social housing policies.

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    The 1.65 billion euros from the NGEU funds in 2021 will be used by three programmes: one to renovate residential environments (housing and neighbourhoods), managed mainly by the autonomous regions via agreements and totalling 1.55 billion euros; another focusing on the digital and sustainable reconditioning of public buildings, worth 81 million, and another programme with a budget of 20 million to renew the country’s architectural heritage. Consequently, although European funds will not directly finance social housing programmes, they will enable funds to be released and thereby increase the budget for this area in the 2021 General State Budget: the total allocation of 2,253 million euros for housing includes 569 million euros for social housing, 20% more than in previous budgets. This allocation will be used mainly to subsidise rent for vulnerable households and for the plan to provide 20,000 homes under the social rent scheme.

    The PGE includes 500 million euros from the NGEU funds for the circular economy, which should help to improve the efficient use of resources as well as the competitiveness of various strategic sectors. However, details of whether some of this budget will be devoted specifically to the construction industry have not been disclosed.

    The state of housing in Spain: old and not very energy efficient

    The plan to renovate housing is a unique opportunity to promote the decarbonisation of the real estate sector but also to alleviate some of the problems faced by housing at present. Especially, in addition to the age of housing (50% of homes in Spain are 40 years old or more), there is also a great deal of variability regarding their characteristics and performance in terms of energy efficiency, habitability and access.

    Spain’s housing tends to be old

    and much of it was built with little attention paid to energy efficiency

    In some cases these differences are the result of the technical regulations in force at the time they were built. For example, and as the following chart shows, half of Spain’s housing was built before the first basic building regulations came into force in 1980. In other words, around 12.8 million homes were built according to standards that regulated the safety of the structure but did not consider issues related to thermal insulation or energy consumption.5 Likewise, an additional 44% of homes (some 11.4 million) were built between 1981 and 2007, before the First Technical Building Code came into force which established minimum requirements for safety, habitability and energy efficiency.6 The result is that Spanish homes are largely inefficient from an energy point of view and require a thorough renovation to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets the country has undertaken to achieve.

    • 5. From 1960 onwards, several provincial ordinances were introduced which regulated the thermal insulation of social housing, albeit to a limited extent.
    • 6. However, as they were built after the Basic Building Regulations CT/79, these homes have a certain degree of thermal insulation (façades and roofs), which guarantees a minimum of thermal comfort. In addition, this period saw an increasing use of aluminium and double glazing in both doors and windows, also helping to improve a home’s thermal insulation.

    Segmentation of housing in Spain according to year of construction and technical regulations

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 08:51

    Part of Spain’s housing also suffers from various problems related to its habitability and quality. One of these problems is the small size of some housing. Specifically, 13% of homes in Spain are less than 60 m2 in size, while 46% are between 61 m2 and 90 m2. Renovation aimed at improving the use of space (such as enclosing terraces) can be of great help in increasing the net surface area of such homes.

    Another problem that affects some housing is its poor state of conservation. Specifically, nearly 1.8 million homes in Spain (7% of the total) are in a state of repair that can be classed as dilapidated, bad or deficient,7 placing Spain slightly below the EU average in relative terms: 15% of Spain’s population lives in a property with conservation problems compared with 13% in the EU.8

    Architectural barriers and poor means of access, which affects 13.2% of the residential stock, are other major shortcomings of housing in Spain. About 3.4 million homes are in buildings of four storeys or more without a lift.

    • 7. Data from the last housing census (2011).
    • 8. Eurostat data.
    Energy consumption in the residential sector: we’re not so bad

    Partly due to the climate, the energy demand of Spain’s residential sector is lower than that of the EU, both in absolute9 and relative terms.10 This lower energy consumption necessarily results in a lower savings potential than in other European countries. This is an important aspect, since one of the arguments in favour of energy reconditioning is that future energy savings (especially in HVAC) can be higher than the cost of the investment/work carried out.11

    If we look at how the energy consumed by Spanish households is used, most is for heating (see the chart below). However, Spain’s share of energy consumption is much lower than that of the EU: 42% in Spain compared with 64% in the EU.12

    Lighting and household appliances also account for a large part of the energy consumed by households, but in this case the proportion of energy consumed is higher than in the EU: 14% in the EU compared with 32% in Spain. This is important, since households have more and more equipment and appliances, so these need to be increasingly energy efficient to avoid a parallel increase in electricity consumption.

    • 9. The average annual consumption per household in Spain is 9,224.1 KWh per dwelling, while the average consumption in the EU is 16,526 KWh per dwelling. A similar conclusion is reached when we compare the energy consumption in residential buildings per m2.
    • 10. The residential sector accounts for approximately 17% of energy consumption in Spain compared with 26% in the EU, according to data from IDAE-MITECO (2018).
    • 11. Another aspect that may make it difficult to capitalise on energy savings within a reasonable period of time is the energy tariff structure, which in Spain consists of a high proportion of fixed costs related to the power under contract and taxes.
    • 12. The unit consumption per m2 for heating is also much lower than in the EU.

    Final energy consumption of the Spanish residential sector broken down by use (2018)

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 08:53
    The reconditioning of housing gets a boost from European funds

    As already mentioned, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan for the Spanish economy proposes to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This provides a significant boost for the goals set out in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC 2021-2030),13 which includes the renovation of the thermal envelope (façades and roofs) of 1,200,000 homes by 2030, starting with 30,000 homes per year in 2021 and ending with 300,000 homes per year in 2030.14

    • 13. The National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC 2021-2030) is a strategic document drawn up by the government (at the request of the EU) which sets out the strategy for decarbonising the Spanish economy.
    • 14. The PNIEC also proposes the renovation of heating and hot water installations in an average of 300,000 homes per year.
    European funds will support the renovation of Spanish housing

    but there are certain limitations that may hinder the rate proposed.

    The European funds should therefore considerably help to speed up the rate at which Spanish housing is renovated. However, there are certain aspects that could hinder the plan’s complete implementation. Firstly, the ambition of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan contrasts with the current rate of housing renovation (close to 25,000 homes per year); in fact, achieving the target of 500,000 homes in three years entails multiplying the current rate of renovation by six by 2023.

    Secondly, the investment to improve the energy efficiency of housing ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 euros for the building’s envelope and from 12,000 to 40,000 euros for complete projects,15 a high cost for many households. It will be crucial for renovation support to also reach the hardest hit and most vulnerable households, as well as zones with the greatest needs in terms of reconditioning.

    Thirdly, in general the population is relatively unwilling to carry out building work. According to the Housing Barometer (CIS, 2018), 87% of those surveyed did not plan to carry out any improvements or reforms to their homes in the following year (most because they did not think their homes needed them). Moreover, among those who did plan to carry out work, decorative reforms (such as in the kitchen or bathroom) were clearly prioritised over those related to energy efficiency (such as replacing doors and windows).

    We should also note the predominant type of housing in Spain, mostly multi-family buildings of three or more storeys, these accounting for 67% of the total housing. It tends to be more difficult to make decisions in communities of several owners and this can present an additional barrier to some of the work required being carried out.

    And, finally, the extent of public concern or awareness regarding energy efficiency is relatively lower than other housing-related issues. According to the latest housing barometer (CIS, 2018), concern about thermal comfort (35%) is similar to other concerns such as noise and security against burglary, and lower than other issues such as the lack
    of a lift in some buildings.

    • 15. Includes changing HVAC and hot water installations. Estimates from the «Estrategia a largo plazo para la rehabilitación energética en el sector de la edificación en España», Ministry of Economy (2020).

    Percentage of households that are little or not at all satisfied with the following aspects of the building in which their home is located

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 08:54

    In short, the reconditioning of housing is key to reducing energy consumption and thereby greenhouse gas emissions. However, in order to encourage such building works, it is also important to convince people that renovating their dwelling is a great opportunity to improve the comfort and interior habitability of their homes (an issue that lockdown has made even more evident), as well as to increase the property’s value. It is therefore essential to direct the available public resources appropriately in order to address the main problems of Spain’s housing together with its citizens.

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    Social housing for rent: the big task ahead

    In addition to renovation, another priority for housing policy over the coming years is to increase the amount of public housing aimed at social or affordable rents. Spain is one of the European countries with the highest percentage of tenants who spend more than 40% of their income on rent, a sign of the extra effort many households have to make to meet their housing costs. This extra effort is also disproportionately high for low-income households and young people. Moreover, the coronavirus crisis has aggravated the existing problems of affordable rented accommodation, especially among the most vulnerable people, as pointed out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest report on the Spanish economy.16 The IMF recommends increasing the number of homes allocated for social rented accommodation as Spain has one of the lowest figures in Europe: social housing accounts for 2.5% of the total number of primary residences in Spain compared with a European average of 9.3%, according to Eurostat data. To reach the European average, 1.2 million additional social housing units would be needed, a figure that would be difficult to achieve without public-private partnerships.

    • 16. IMF Country Report no. 20/299. Spain. Selected Issues. Available at https://www.imf.org/-/media/Files/Publications/CR/2020/English/ 1ESPEA2020002.ashx
    In the past 4 decades, almost 2.4 million social dwellings have been built in Spain,

    most of them intended for ownership, not rent. As a result, there is very little rented social housing, approximately 290,000 homes.

    This lack of rented social housing is the result of housing policies that have historically been aimed at developing social housing via ownership. Between 1981 and 2019, almost 11 million homes were completed in Spain, 21.6% of which were social housing. During this same period, households grew by just under 8 million, so we can conclude that social housing has covered the accommodation needs of approximately 30% of Spanish households in the past four decades, a highly significant figure. However, most of the social housing built in Spain has been destined for ownership (see the chart below). Consequently, after a few years these properties have now acquired the status of free housing on the market, thereby losing their original social purpose.

    The development of social housing for rent has been very limited in Spain

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 11:36

    Very little social housing has been developed since 2010, affecting rented accommodation to a greater extent. In fact, between 2013 and 2016 the development of this kind of property has been almost zero (368 homes per year on average), increasing the prevalence of social housing under ownership. However, since 2017 rental accommodation seems to have regained some of its relative weight. Specifically, 12,496 social homes were built in Spain in 2019, of which 2,585 (20.7%) were for rent. Nevertheless, these figures are clearly not enough to significantly increase the stock of rented social housing.

    According to recent estimates by the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda,17 Spain’s stock of publicly-owned social housing for rent totals about 290,000 homes. Of these, around 180,000 are owned by the autonomous region and 110,000 by the local council. These 290,000 rented social homes cover 1.6% of the 18.6 million households in Spain (data from the «Cuestionario sobre vivienda social», 2019).

    • 17. «Boletín especial vivienda social», 2020, Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda.
    Final points

    The European funds represent a historic opportunity to recondition Spain’s old, poorly energy-efficient housing, renovations that will also contribute, simultaneously, to the two European goals of ecological transition and digitalisation of the economy, for instance through more energy-efficient «smart» buildings. Similarly, the strong economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to create a large amount of public housing available for rent in order to resolve the current shortage and be able to provide a housing solution for the most vulnerable in society. These policies should drive a green, social and digital recovery.

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Will the COVID-19 pandemic help to curb greenhouse gas emissions?

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The fight against COVID-19 has two major points in common with the fight against climate change. Firstly, although a pandemic can spread in a matter of weeks while climate change worsens much more gradually, both have the ability to evolve exponentially: in the former case through social contagion mechanisms and in the latter case through polluting emissions accumulated over time. Secondly, once the phenomenon has been identified and the necessary measures are taken to curb it, the costs become apparent immediately, whereas the benefits take a while to become visible.

In a famous speech in 2015, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, referred to climate change as the «tragedy of the horizon»,1 noting that, as a collective problem that surpasses the traditional horizons of the economic and political cycle, current generations do not have the right incentives to combat it, even having access to all the available information on the devastating effects it will have in the future. Is it possible that, by highlighting the risks of inaction to address adverse events, the COVID-19 pandemic will help to accelerate the fight against climate change?

Of course, while COVID-19 is having devastating consequences for health and the economy on a global scale, the mobility restrictions imposed to curb the pandemic have reduced emissions across the world. In this article, we will discuss how much of a short-term impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on polluting emissions and to what extent this is a lasting shift. Finally, we will present different future scenarios for the trend in polluting emissions.

  • 1. See M. Carney (2015). «Breaking the Tragedy of the Horizon – climate change and financial stability». Speech at Lloyd’s of London.
The immediate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: a temporary and insignificant reduction in emissions

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people around the world into lockdown and has led to the closure of schools, factories, shops, hotels and airports, with a drastic reduction in the mobility of the entire population. It is no wonder, then, that this pandemic has also reduced the levels of polluting emissions.

Although there is not yet any emissions data available for 2020, studies have been carried out that estimate how they have changed by sector in real time, based on mobility and economic activity data.2 The Carbon Monitor project, for example, allows us to obtain estimates of daily carbon dioxide emissions (which represent 80% of all polluting emissions) in the energy, industrial, residential, land and air transportation sectors, based on data on electricity generation, production, mobility and fuel consumption, among others. As the first chart shows, the most drastic declines in emissions occurred in the first weeks of April, with global levels plummeting by 17.0% year-on-year in the second week. At the end of April, at a time when around half of the world’s population was in lockdown, cumulative global emissions had fallen by 8% compared to the same period in 2019. The decline was considerable, but it was quickly undone: by the end of September this cumulative drop had already been limited to 6% year-on-year with the gradual normalisation of economic and social activity, and by the end of November it had fallen even further, to 5%, despite the new restrictions imposed to curb the second wave of the pandemic.3 Beyond this dynamic observed in global emissions, there was a significant rebound in emissions in the energy and industrial sectors, which are responsible for 70% of total emissions, registering a cumulative reduction of 3% up until the end of November, in contrast with the cumulative decline of 7% up until the end of April.

  • 2. See, for instance, T. Le et al. (2020). «Unexpected air pollution with marked emission reductions during the COVID-19 outbreak in China». Science, 369 (6504), 702-706. C. Le Quéré et al. (2020). «Temporary reduction in daily global CO_2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement». Nature Climate Change, 1-7. Z. Y Liu et al. (2020). «Near-real-time monitoring of global CO2 emissions reveals the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic». Nature Communications, 11(1), 1-12.
  • 3. In Spain, the decline has been greater, as the total cumulative emissions reduced by 15% by the end of November, after reaching their lowest point (–19%) at the end of June. In the EU, total emissions reduced by 8% by the end of November and by almost 13% in the first half of the year.
Global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020

Thus, we are talking about a temporary reduction in emissions in an exceptionally adverse context marked by a very high economic and human cost.4 In addition, it should be clarified that the effect of this temporary reduction will be small relative to the colossal challenge that climate change poses for our society. Indeed, while the Carbon Monitor estimates presented indicate a reduction in global polluting emissions of between 5% and 6% in 2020,5 which would represent the biggest decline since World War II, it is estimated that the average temperature of the planet will cool as a result of this drop by only 0.01 degrees Celsius between now and 2030 relative to the counterfactual scenario without the pandemic.6 Therefore, it is clear that only an economic recovery with a strong green imprint driven by ambitious measures to combat climate change, combined with the development of new technologies for capturing and absorbing polluting gases, can ensure we are in a position to meet the targets laid down in the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

  • 4. Global GDP is expected to contract by around 4% in 2020, according to CaixaBank Research forecasts. In addition, as this Dossier is being written, more than 1.7 million people have already succumbed to COVID-19.
  • 5. There is, in fact, a wider range for the annual fall in emissions in 2020, according to data and estimation methods other than those of the Carbon Monitor. 5% seems to be the minimum figure that attracts a consensus, but some estimates suggest an annual decline of 7%-8% (International Energy Agency, 2020, «Global Energy Review» and United Nations Environment Programme, 2020, «Emissions Gap Report 2020»).
  • 6. See P. Forster et al. (2020). «Current and future global climate impacts resulting from COVID-19». Nature Climate Change, 10(10), 913-919.
EU carbon dioxide emission forecasts: the countdown to 2050 begins
From COVID-19 to the long-term evolution of emissions: the ship has to change course

The magnitude of the structural change needed in our productive model to address global warming over the coming decades is evident. In order to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement, the EU has clearly defined the various battle grounds for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by between 80% and 100% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

How can we achieve this end goal? Taking into account pre-pandemic emissions data, estimates of the drop in emissions in 2020 (around –9% in the EU according to estimates by the Carbon Monitor) and the targets for reducing emissions by 2050, we have developed different scenarios for the potential evolution of carbon dioxide emissions in the EU over the coming decades. In the first scenario, from 2021 countries would maintain the trend observed between 2008 and 2018, with an average decline of 1.6% per year across the EU as a whole. In this case, by 2050 the EU would have reduced its emissions by just over 40% compared to 2018, well below the recently announced targets of a 55% cut in emissions by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050.7 By tripling efforts and reaching a scenario in which emissions are reduced by 4.5% a year, the EU would achieve an 80% reduction between 2050 and 2055, with reductions of 40% as early as the mid-2030s.8 This would be a fairly significant sustained rate of decline in emissions, approximately equivalent to maintaining an annual reduction of half that seen in 2020 in the EU. To illustrate this pedagogically, it would be a reduction similar to that achieved with a two-month lockdown followed by a gradual return to normal spread over a period of six weeks (Le Quéré et al., 2020).

On the other hand, if the post-pandemic recovery were to postpone Europe’s efforts to cut emissions, or if investments within the framework of NGEU failed to have the anticipated effects, the scenario would be different. Thus, maintaining the current trend until 2030, between 2030 and 2050 annual emission cuts equivalent to those observed globally this year (between 5% and 6%) would be necessary in order to achieve a reduction of 80% by around 2050.

Finally, postponing climate action until 2040 would be very detrimental for the planet,9 and would also result in draconian reductions of 9% per year being required between 2040 and 2050 in order to achieve the aforementioned 80% reduction by around 2050. This rate of reduction would be similar to sustaining the levels of reduction observed in the EU in 2020, during a pandemic, for 10 consecutive years. Obviously, such a reduction in emissions would be almost impossible to sustain without inflicting enormous damage on the economy.

Ultimately, the scale of the climate challenge underscores the need to start taking ambitious action as soon as possible. The pandemic also reminds us that reducing polluting emissions cannot be done at the cost of a drastic reduction in economic activity. The smart thing to do, in order to meet the targets set, is to promote a green recovery that can revive the economy through cleaner, more sustainable technologies.

  • 7. It is important to emphasise here that the EU average masks various trends observed in individual European countries in recent years. Maintaining the current pace, and focusing on the top five emitters (Germany, Poland, Italy, France, and Spain), Italy would reach 2050 with a 65% reduction in emissions, Spain with a 50% reduction, while Poland would see an increase in emissions of 5-10% and Germany (the main emitter) would reduce its emissions by just 30%.
  • 8. We assume that the scenario of zero emissions by 2050, or climate neutrality, will only be achievable with investments in mitigation projects or those generating negative emissions, such as efficient carbon dioxide disposal and storage technologies.
  • 9. See, for example, the recent reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).