If the European Union wants to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as planned, it must immediately invest heavily in low-emission technologies, according to a new study. At least 302 billion euros are needed per year up to 2025, write researchers from the ETH University in Zurich in the journal “Nature Climate Change”. That is around 40 percent more than was invested per year between 2016 and 2020. Necessary investment costs, for example in the building sector, for vehicles and industrial plants, are not taken into account.

By 2025, the biggest leap in investment is needed to set the right pace for achieving the goal. Co-author Lena Klaassen: “The most important investment areas for low-carbon infrastructure in Europe are renewable power plants, power grids and railway infrastructure.”

As part of the national commitment that all countries have agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU promises a reduction in climate-relevant emissions of 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. The net zero target should be achieved by 2050. Net zero means that emissions that are harmful to the climate are reduced as much as possible and unavoidable emissions are removed from the atmosphere, for example by planting trees that can absorb carbon dioxide.

Expensive but not impossible

Funding is possible, says Felix Creutzig from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). “If there are 200 billion euros for a gas and electricity price brake – largely a subsidy for fossil fuels – then there can also be 87 billion euros for future investments,” he said. Instead of investing several billion euros a year in the construction of trunk roads and motorways, the money could be invested in rail and bicycle traffic. Among other things, he calls for a location- and time-dependent car toll.

More investments mean higher prices for consumers, said Michael Pahle from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Politicians must “clearly communicate that the transformation will be expensive – even if that’s a bitter pill politically, of course.” Instead of a premium for electric vehicles, it is more efficient to make combustion cars more expensive through a higher CO2 price. That makes e-cars more financially attractive and costs the state nothing.

It is a meta-analysis. The ETH team used 56 studies for this purpose, including 18 that were reviewed by independent experts (peer review).