Breaking free from fossil gas

In view of the accelerating climate crisis, the European Union has set itself a legally binding target to be climate neutral by 2050 at the latest. Climate neutrality means no more burning of unabated fossil fuels. No oil, no coal, no fossil gas.

The escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the resulting fossil gas crisis put a spotlight on Europe’s high dependency on imports of cheap Russian pipeline gas. The REPowerEU plan is a testament to the resolve of European leaders to rapidly end this dependency and to find a balance between structurally reducing demand and replacing Russian gas with imports from elsewhere or non-fossil molecules such as renewable hydrogen and biomethane.

Against this background, this report presents a structural transition pathway away from fossil gas use by 2050 based on detailed sectoral modeling of the energy, buildings, and industry sectors.

We also draw several insights from this work with implications for EU energy and climate policy-making.

Fossil gas use in Europe can be halved by 2030 and completely phased out by 2050.

This is possible while maintaining today’s level of industrial production and fully ensuring security of supply, without disruptive behavioural changes. The phase-out requires a fast ramping up of energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as the electrification of applications in the buildings and industry sectors.

By 2040, EU greenhouse gas emissions could decline by 89 percent relative to 1990 levels, with a projected remaining Union greenhouse gas budget for the 2030–2050 period of 14.3 Gt.

The sectoral transition pathways developed in this report show that based on latest technological progress, an EU greenhouse gas reduction target of 90% by 2040 is realistic. It would avoid 3.3 Gt more greenhouse gas emissions than projected in the EU’s 2020 Climate Target Plan.

Europe will need a significant amount of renewable hydrogen to become climate neutral, but the demand by 2030 could be only a fifth of that foreseen in REPowerEU.

By prioritising direct electrification and reserving its use for no-regret applications, the EU would need only 116 TWh of renewable hydrogen by 2030, compared to 666 TWh in REPowerEU. This is more cost-effective, more realistic from a security of supply perspective and consistent with the hydrogen sub-targets in the new Renewable Energy Directive. The REPowerEU target should thus be revised.

EU rules on gas, hydrogen, and infrastructure planning must reflect the projected rapid decline in fossil gas demand.

(1) A new impact assessment is needed for the EU gas and methane package. (2) Governments should evaluate the impact of the decline in gas demand on gas supply and distribution infrastructure, and when updating their National Energy and Climate Plans. (3) The sale of new fossil gas-burning equipment in buildings should end quickly.

Download the report

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