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European Commission calls for a climate neutral Europe by 2050

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European Commission adopted a strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy by 2050 – A Clean Planet for all.

The strategy shows how Europe can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research – while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.

The Vice-President responsible for the Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič said: “We cannot safely live on a planet with the climate that is out of control. But that does not mean that to reduce emissions, we should sacrifice the livelihoods of Europeans. Over the last years, we have shown how to reduce emissions, while creating prosperity, high-quality local jobs, and improving people’s quality of life. Europe will inevitably continue to transform. Our strategy now shows that by 2050, it is realistic to make Europe both climate neutral and prosperous, while leaving no European and no region behind.”

Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete said: “The EU has already started the modernisation and transformation towards a climate neutral economy. And today, we are stepping up our efforts as we propose a strategy for Europe to become the world’s first major economy to go climate neutral by 2050. Going climate neutral is necessary, possible and in Europe’s interest. It is necessary to meet the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. It is possible with current technologies and those close to deployment. And it is in Europe’s interest to stop spending on fossil fuel imports and invest in meaningful improvements to the daily lives of all Europeans. No European, no region should be left behind. The EU will support those more impacted by this transition so that everyone’s ready to adapt to the new requirements of a climate neutral economy.”

Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc said: “All transport modes should contribute to the decarbonisation of our mobility system. The goal is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This requires a system approach with low and zero emission vehicles, strong increase in rail network capacity, and a much more efficient organisation of the transport system, based on digitalisation; incentives for behavioural changes; alternative fuels and smart infrastructure; and global commitments. All this driven by innovation and investments.”

Following the invitation by the European Council in March 2018, the Commission’s vision for a climate-neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep temperature increase to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. For the EU to lead the world towards climate neutralitymeans achieving it by 2050.

The purpose of this long-term strategy is not to set targets, but to create a vision and sense of direction, plan for it, and inspire as well as enable stakeholders, researchers, entrepreneurs and citizens alike to develop new and innovative industries, businesses and associated jobs. We have a strong mandate from our citizens: according to the latest special Eurobarometer (November 2018) 93% of Europeansbelieve climate change to be caused by human activity and 85% agree thatfighting climate change and using energy more efficiently can create economic growth and jobs in Europe. With the vision we are presenting today, the EU can inform others how we can deliver collectively a clean planet and show that transforming our economy is possible and beneficial.

The long-term strategy looks into the portfolio of options available for Member States, business and citizens, and how these can contribute to the modernisation of our economy and improve the quality of life of Europeans. It seeks to ensure that this transition is socially fair and enhances the competitiveness of EU economy and industry on global markets, securing high quality jobs and sustainable growth in Europe, while also helping address other environmental challenges, such as air quality or biodiversity loss.

The road to a climate neutral economy would require joint action in seven strategic areas: energy efficiency; deployment of renewables; clean, safe and connected mobility; competitive industry and circular economy; infrastructure and interconnections; bio-economy and natural carbon sinks; carbon capture and storage to address remaining emissions. Pursuing all these strategic priorities would contribute to making our vision a reality.

The next steps

The European Commission invites the European Council, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee to consider the EU vision for a climate neutral Europe by 2050. In order to prepare EU Heads of State and Government for shaping the Future of Europe at the European Council on 9 May 2019 in Sibiu, ministers in all relevant Council formations should hold extensive policy debates on the contribution of their respective policy areas to the overall vision.

The long-term strategy is an invitation to all EU institutions, the national parliaments, business sector, non-governmental organisations, cities and communities, as well as citizens – and especially the youth, to participate in ensuring the EU can continue to show leadership and hold other international partners to do the same. This EU-wide informed debate should allow the EU to adopt and submit an ambitious strategy by early 2020 to the UNFCCC as requested under the Paris Agreement.

Member States will submit to the European Commission, by the end of 2018, their draft National Climate and Energy Plans, which are central for the achievement of the 2030 climate and energy targets and which should be forward-looking and take into account in the EU long term strategy. In addition, an increasing number of regions, municipalities and business associations are drawing up their own vision for 2050 which will enrich the debate and contribute to defining Europe’s answer to the global challenge of climate change.

Internationally, over the coming year the EU should expand its cooperation closely with its international partners, so that all parties to the Paris Agreement develop and submit a long-term national mid-century strategy by 2020 in the light of the recent IPCC Special report on 1.5̊ Celsius.

Today the high level panel of independent experts on decarbonisation pathways – an advisory body to Commissioner Moedas – has published a report on the role of research and innovation in achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement while putting the EU at a competitive advantage in the decarbonisation race. The report underpins the vision as presented in today’s communication.

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GHG emissions from pyrolysis are nine times higher than in mechanical recycling

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New study published today by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) finds that greenhouse gas emissions from pyrolysis of plastic packaging are nine times higher than that of mechanical recycling. The “Climate impact of pyrolysis of waste plastic packaging in comparison with reuse and mechanical recycling” study is based on the estimated future recycling content targets in plastic packaging.

BACKGROUND: In the context of the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), the European Commission (EC) assigned the independent consultancy Eunomia to consider the possible introduction of recycled content targets for plastic packaging by 2030. Based on the estimated future recycling content targets in plastic packaging, Eunomia determined to recycle quantities that must come as outputs from chemical recycling or mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling, in this case, means thermo-chemical (i.e. pyrolysis) recycling.

With this study, commissioned by ZWE and Rethink Plastic alliance to Öko-Institut, we calculated the impact of Eunomia’s proposed scenario regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon loss. The study compares seven scenarios to meet the projected recycled content target by 2030, and puts them into perspective with the Paris Agreement commitments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The study found that: 

  • Pyrolysis GHG emissions are nine times higher than those in mechanical recycling – in all scenarios considered over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to chemical recycling;
  • Over half of the carbon content of plastic is lost in the pyrolysis process and has to be replaced by new plastic;
  • Mechanical recycling must be prioritised over pyrolysis wherever possible –  shifting 30% of the production attributed to chemical recycling by Eunomia to mechanical recycling would reduce GHG emissions by 31%;
  • Combining shit to more mechanical recycling together with a reduction of 20% of packaging would result in a 45% reduction of GHG emissions compared to the “chemical recycling scenario”.
  • Combining mechanical and chemical recycling to transform plastic waste into recyclate avoids the GHG emissions associated with the use of primary plastic.


ZWE’s Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuel Policy Officer, Lauriane Veillard says: “The revision of the PPWD should serve as a lever to make the packaging sector more circular and be in line with European climate commitments to limit Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius. There are other ways than pyrolysis for contact-sensitive materials. The climate impact of the managing pathways should be considered when setting targets. The revision is the opportunity to rethink the overall volume and the use we make of plastic packaging.“

With this in mind, ZWE urges the European Commission (EC) to consider the reports’ findings in the upcoming revision of the PPWD and to:

  • Introduce legal safeguards to prioritise mechanical recycling over pyrolysis;
  • Consider the climate impact of different recycling technologies when settings targets for recycled content;
  • Incentivise measures such as design for recycling and innovations along the plastic packaging value chain to facilitate mechanical recycling.

Lauriane Veillard adds: “If we are serious about achieving net-zero emission economy, mechanical recycling must be preferred over pyrolysis. However, this cannot be achieved unless legal safeguards as part of the P&PWD revision are introduced to prioritise mechanical processes for recycling packaging waste complemented with ambitious prevention and reuse targets”. 

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UN spotlights transformational potential of family farming for world food supply

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María Fernanda Masís and her family are the owners of the hot sauces brand Xoloitzcuintle, named after their farm. Photo: UNEP

A Global Forum highlighting the UN’s Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF) got underway on Monday, aimed at identifying priority policies to boost support for family farmers and agricultural development worldwide.

The UNDFF runs through the end of 2028, and the Forum is being convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, pointed out in his video address to the Global Forum’s opening that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition.

Growing hunger

He said the number of people facing hunger increased in 2021, and it risks rising further especially among the most vulnerable, of which almost 80 percent live in rural areas and are small-scale, family farmers.

Family farmers around the world are also subject to the new challenges to food systems everywhere, created by the climate crisis, as well as conflict. The war in Ukraine has added further pressure, to already fragile agrifood systems, UN agencies said.

Mr. QU said the forum provides a way, firstly, to discuss “the unique role of family farmers in transforming our agrifood systems; two, take stock of achievements and challenges in the implementation of the UN Decade; and three, strengthen collaboration to ensure global food security, enhance livelihoods and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

80 percent

Family farmers need to be at the centre of efforts to transform agrifood systems if we are to make real progress towards ending hunger,” Mr. Qu said.

He added that “family farming is the main form of agriculture in both developed and developing countries and is responsible for producing 80 percent of the world’s food,” in terms of value.

Family struggle

He noted that often, these family farmers struggle to feed their own families.

Since its launch three years ago, the UN Decade of Family Farming has been promoting integrated policies and investments to support family farmers, and FAO has been assisting national implementation of international tools and guidelines to strengthen family farming, Mr. Qu told the virtual forum.

He also noted that FAO hosts the Family Farming Knowledge Platform to facilitate the exchange of experience, innovation and specialised knowledge.

In addition, the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 includes a priority area of work aimed at better supporting small-scale food producers and delivering concrete results.

Push for the future

The main objectives of the Global Forum are to provide a general overview of policy trends and the relevance of family farming to the global push towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals; highlight the main outcomes of the first three years of implementation; and re-orient the UNDFF agenda through the practical lessons learned so far.

Participants include representatives from national governments, governmental agencies, UN agencies, family farmers and their organizations, civil society organizations, as well as NGOs; the private sector, the media and academia.

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Microalgae promise abundant healthy food and feed in any environment

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By Sofia Strodt

Feeding a growing world population that will reach 9.8 billion by 2050, according to United Nations forecasts, and the need to conserve natural resources for generations to come may seem conflicting at first.

But a solution, while not yet in sight, is certainly not out of reach. European scientists recently have developed an appetite for microalgae, also called phytoplankton, a sub-group of algae consisting of unicellular photosynthetic microorganisms.

Most people are familiar with the largest form of algae, kelp or seaweed. It can grow up to three metres long and, in some forms, is a well-known delicacy. The related species microalgae, which can be found in both seawater and freshwater, have gained attention in research due to their extraordinary properties.

These microscopic organisms can be used for animal feed, particularly in aquaculture, and various foods including pasta, vegan sausages, energy bars, bakery products and vegetable creams. 

Most commercial microalgae cultivation centres on the production of dried biomass such as chlorella or spirulina powder as a food providing considerable health benefits. Some microalgae strains not only accumulate up to 65–70% of protein but also are sustainable sources of omega-3 fatty acids – a substance that is conventionally derived mainly from fish and fish oil.

Additional bioactive compounds, such as vitamins B12, K or D, mean microalgae contain significant health properties, potentially reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular illness.

Desert algae

‘Microalgae can be cultivated in many different locations, under very different conditions,’ said Massimo Castellari, who is involved in the Horizon-funded ProFuture project aimed at scaling up microalgae production. ‘We can grow it in Iceland and in a desert climate.’  

The technologies for the intensive cultivation of microalgae have been in development since the 1950s.

Today, microalgae are cultivated in open- or closed-system photobioreactors, which are vessels designed to control biomass production. The closed-system version, while more expensive to build, offers more control over experimental parameters and less risk of contamination. 

The substance is by no means just a trendy food supplement. For example, in Chad, a landlocked, low-income country, the consumption of spirulina harvested from Lake Chad has significantly improved people’s nutritional status because spirulina is an excellent source of proteins and micronutrients.

On top of its nutritional value, microalgae offer climate benefits by sequestering carbon dioxide as well as economic advantages by using farming areas more efficiently and – through the use of non-arable land – expanding the possibility of biomass production. 

With a total of less than 57 000 tonnes cultivated in 2019, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), production of microalgae is still very much in its early stages. By comparison, primary-crop output was 9.4 billion tonnes in 2019. 

Food inflation

Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine has highlighted just how vulnerable global food supply can be. Halts to Ukrainian grain exports and increases in energy prices have helped push food inflation around the world to record highs, with developing countries being hit disproportionately hard. In May this year, costs for food had risen by 42% compared with 2014-2016, the UN reported.  

Last year, as many as 828 million people were affected by hunger – an increase of roughly 46 million compared with 2020 and a surge of 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAO projects that some 670 million people will still face hunger by the end of the decade.   

While the benefits of cultivating organic microalgae for food and feed are substantial, market growth will require overcoming obstacles including a lack of automated production in the industry, according to Castellari, who works at the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology in Barcelona, Spain.

‘The automatisation is still not completely implemented,’ he said. ‘There are small producers in Europe – many steps still involve manual labour. So they are still working on optimising the process.’ 

Processed biomass

The challenges go well beyond cultivation. With microalgae, biomass has to be processed, cleaned and dried before a usable powder can be obtained. The next step is to scale up production to drive down costs. 

In addition, there are regulatory challenges. Only a few species of microalgae are currently authorised in the European Union.

‘In Europe it’s still in a preliminary stage of development,’ said Castellari. ‘There are thousands of species of microalgae, but for food consumption or feed there are only seven species authorised.’ 

To gain knowledge about the possibilities to use other species, Castellari and his team are also investigating these other kinds of microalgae.

Due to these challenges, the portfolio of products containing microalgae remains limited today. But, if these hurdles can be overcome, the overall prospects for the microalgae industry are promising. Besides being a source of food and feed, the plant can be used for biofuels, cosmetics, fertiliser and health supplements.

Astaxanthin, a blood-red pigment extracted from algae, already has notable uses. A powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin can be found in seafood and is commonly used to colour shrimp. It is also sold in the form of pills as a food supplement.

Astaxanthin is thought to have potentially a positive impact on brain function, athletic performance and ageing skin, among other things.

Matteo Ballottari, associate professor of biotechnology at the University of Verona in Italy, helped start the European Research Council’s Horizon-funded project AstaOmega simultaneously to produce astaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids in microalgae for aquaculture and human nutrition. 

Quality and quantity 

Most omega-3 supplements are derived from fish oils. This, however, raises sustainability concerns such as damage to marine ecosystems as a result of overfishing.  

‘There is more demand for eating high-quality foods, along with an awareness for incorporating omega-3 rich ingredients in our diets,’ Ballottari said. Responding to this trend while feeding a growing world population is ‘a big challenge,’ he said.

Meanwhile, on the astaxanthin front, the AstaOmega researchers have made progress. They have been able to obtain a new strain that can produce astaxanthin on its own, without needing to be “stressed”. This means the researchers don’t have to change production parameters such as light intensity, temperature or nitrates concentration. Also, extracting the substance has become easier, resulting in lower costs.  

Scientists agree that microalgae have the potential to change the ways in which we eat for the better.  

‘Microalgae can help us to increase the protein production within Europe to reduce our dependence on other countries,’ said Castellari of the ProFuture project.  

Research in this article was funded by the EU and it was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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