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Briefing: Towards an EU net zero monitoring framework. A review of the European Commission’s assessment of progress

Eike Karola Velten • Matthias Duwe • Markus Hagemann • Sarah Jackson • Paula Schöberlein

In October 2023, the European Commission presented its first ever assessment of progress towards climate neutrality – and acknowledged the lack of depth in its current progress monitoring. Not checking the development of enabling conditions for the transition creates the risk that policymakers do not receive sufficiently actionable information to intervene where needed. The existing reporting system already delivers relevant information, but scattered across multiple reports.

Have a look at the slider below to read about the steps that could be taken in the next two years to improve the system and provide a compass for the path to climate neutrality.

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Recommendation 1

Expand emissions tracking with enablers

The Commission should develop a comprehensive framework that integrates the tracking of underlying enablers for the transition. The development should seek inputs from expert stakeholders and result in a transparent methodology. The framework could be applied across planning and reporting to reduce administrative burden.

Recommendation 2

Get the data right

The Commission can draw on inputs from EU data sources, and integrate with existing EU monitoring systems but there is also an important need to assess current data gaps and improve data collection from Member States. To provide up-to-date benchmarks against which to assess progress, the EU Long-Term Strategy needs a formal update. 

Recommendation 3

Update progress assessment in 2025

The EU Climate Law demands the next assessment in 2028, which is too late to inform the next package of EU climate policy, for example. The Commission should assess the EU’s progress in 2025 and repeat the exercise every two years instead of every five. 

Net zero progress assessment limited to emissions

The European Commission itself explicitly recognises the lack of information on the enablers. However, the Commission’s assessment of progress towards climate neutrality focusses almost entirely on GHG data and does not provide comprehensive information on enablers. 

"More detailed monitoring is needed to assess progress on enabling factors that drive emissions in the different sectors to better highlight areas where progress is lacking or more action is needed"

- Climate Action Progress Report 2023, EU Commission

Information on the progress of underlying enablers that drive emission reductions in a sector (or across the economy) is important to understand what drives or inhibits the emission reductions now and in the coming years. Monitoring enablers allows for the detection of change (and lack thereof) before it is reflected in emissions. Accordingly, ECNO’s approach has defined a set of 13 building blocks of a climate neutral future, including sectors and cross-sectoral elements, and identified both objectives and enablers for each of them, as well as related indicators to measure economic and societal change.

Connecting with existing resources and systems

The CAPR is clear about the need for a more detailed monitoring system to identify enabling factors – and our analysis identifies relevant information in various places throughout the existing climate and energy related reporting that is published with the State of the Energy Union. At the same time, national authorities have limited resources available for reporting and the Better Regulation agenda demands a reduction of the administrative effort, including through the streamlining of reporting obligations. One key next step in devising a more in-depth system looking at enablers for the transition will thus be to figure out which existing resources are available that could be drawn upon. 

EU policy already has existing monitoring and accountability frameworks for a range of different purposes, and supporting bodies like Eurostat or the European Environment Agency to help manage them. The broad scope of the transition to climate neutrality implies that there could be linkages made with tracking systems from a variety of different policy fields.

Moreover, smart integration could reduce overall administrative burden. Duplication of data submissions could be avoided through a streamlining of climate neutrality transition related indicators. 

Next progress assessment in 2025

The EU Climate Law only requires the next assessment to be carried out in 2028 – clearly too late to inform, for instance, a “Fit For 2040” package that the EC will likely have to produce in its next cycle to revise the current toolbox for the time after 2030 (to achieve the 2040 target that is still to be set at the time of writing), when several EU climate policy instruments will run out. 

The first EU Commission's assessment of the EU's progress

The EU Climate Law (EUCL) introduces new mechanisms and institutions to support the achievement of the climate neutrality goal, including on progress monitoring. Article 6.1 obliges the EU Commission (EC) to carry out an assessment of “the collective progress made by all Member States towards the achievement of the climate-neutrality objective […] and on adaptation” every five years. 

The law does not prescribe any specific procedural steps or a clear methodology other than the use of a linear trajectory of net GHG emissions linking the climate targets for 2030 and 2040, when adopted, and 2050. It only prescribes several sources of information to be considered, such as the national reporting under the Governance Regulation (2018/1999), as well as relevant reports by EU and international scientific bodies (Article 8 EUCL). It is, however, stated clearly that the assessment must be based on “the best available and most recent scientific evidence” (Article 8.3.d).

The EC published the first of these assessments on 24 October 2023 as a section of its annual Climate Action Progress Report (CAPR) (COM/2023/653). The CAPR was released as part of the eighth State of the Energy Union report, which comes with several other documents that contain further information on a variety of aspects concerning progress towards the EU’s climate and energy policy and it targets. Many are based on reporting obligations in the Governance Regulation which lays down the current EU framework for planning, monitoring and reporting on energy and climate goals and policies 

The Commission should develop a comprehensive framework that integrates the tracking of underlying enablers for the transition.

Eike Velten, Lead Author at the European Climate Neutrality Observatory

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Download and read more

Visit our page on EU-wide progress to climate neutrality in the cross-cutting sector governance, or have a look at ECNO's underlying methodology. 

Read more about EU climate governance Read more about ECNO's research methodology Download the full briefing
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