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What is The European Unionʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

In brief

This is a summary of the most important findings of our analysis. Get a brief overview over the most important figures and entry points into the various parts of the in depth analysis.

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Ambition gap

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The European Unionʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

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Displayed values
Reference year
−120 %−100 %−80 %−60 %−40 %−20 %0 %20002020204020601234
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
Legend
  1. 1
    1.5°C emissions level
    −66 %
  2. 2
    NDC
    −52 %
  3. 3
    Ambition gap
    −14 %
  4. 4
    Reference year
    1990
Key messages

In December 2020, the European Council agreed to increasing the EU’s emissions reduction goal to a ‘net domestic reduction of at least 55%’ below 1990 levels by 2030. While this goal is higher than the ‘at least 40%’ goal agreed in October 2014, adding ‘net’ means that it will include carbon sinks from LULUCF, thus weakening the effectiveness of this goal by at least 2%. The European Parliament had suggested emissions reduction goal of at least 60%, excluding LULUCF, however this was not adopted.

1 Agora Energiewende and Ember. The European Power Sector in 2020: Up-to-Date Analysis on the Electricity Transition. Agora Energiewende and Ember. (2021).

2 European Commission. EU Climate Action Progress Report 2020. (2020).

3 IEA. Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2020. IEA (2021).

4 European Council. European Council meeting (12 December 2019) – Conclusions. (2019).

5 European Commission. A Clean Planet for all. A European long-term strategic vision for a prosperous , modern , competitive and climate neutral economy. (2018).

6 European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018. Off. J. Eur. Union 328, 1–77 (2018).

7 Council of the European Union. EU energy efficiency rules adapted in view of Brexit. (2019).

8 European Parliament. Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources. Off. J. Eur. Union 2018, 82–209 (2018).

9 European Parliament. Directive (EU) 2018/410 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2018 amending Directive 2003/87/EC to enhance cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments, and Decision (EU) 2015/1814. Off. J. Eur. Union L76, 3–27 (2018).

10 EU. Regulation (EU) 2019/1242 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 Setting CO2 emission performance standards for new heavy-duty vehicles and amending Regulations (EC) No 595/2009 and (EU) 2018/956 of the European Parliament. Off. J. Eur. Union L 198, 202–240 (2019).

11 Regulation (EU) 2019/631. Regulation (EU) 2019/631 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 setting CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/201. Off. J. Eur. Union 62, 13–53 (2019).

12 European Parliament. Regulation (EU) 2018/842. Off. J. Eur. Union 2018, 26–42 (2018).

13 European Commission. Regulation (EU) 2018/841 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry in the 2030 climate and energy framework, and amending Regulation. Off. J. Eur. Union 19, 1–25 (2018).

14 Considering LULUCF sink projected by the Commission at 472 MtCO2 (Scenario 1.5LIFE). Excluding LULUCF net-zero GHG would be brought twenty years later.

15 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches which developed countries will need to implement in order to counterbalance their remaining emissions and reach net zero GHG are not considered here due to data availability.

16 In analysed global-least cost pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C, the energy sector assumes already a certain amount of carbon dioxide removal technologies, in this case bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

Paris Agreement compatibility would require emissions reductions of 60-69% below 1990 levels by 2030, excluding LULUCF – the top of the range being consistent with the European Parliament’s proposed goal.

Current policies adopted by the EU and its member states would result in emissions reductions of 30-46% below 1990 levels by 2030 (excl. LULUCF), indicating that further substantial policy action is needed to meet the new 2030 goal.

A fair share contribution to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement would require the EU to go further than its domestic target, and provide substantial support for emission reductions to developing countries on top of its domestic reductions.

The EU should reach net zero GHG emissions by around 2050 with a level of remaining GHG emissions not higher than 294 MtCO2e by 2050 or 94% below 1990 levels.14,15

An increase in energy efficiency in all sectors, but especially in buildings and transport sectors, offers a great potential to accelerate decarbonisation.

By 2050 all energy consumed in the EU needs to be generated from renewable sources of energy.

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Key messages

The share of renewables in the power sector needs to increase from 38% in 2020 to 88-90% in 2030.1 By 2050 almost all electricity generated in the EU should be coming from renewable sources.

The share of coal in electricity generation fell from 23% in 2017 to 13% in 2020. By the end of the decade, almost all coal needs to be phased out from the power sector.

In 2017, the share of natural gas was lower than that of coal, at 18% of the EU’s electricity generation, though it has increased to 20% in 2020. Its share needs to decrease to 4-5% by 2030 and be completely phased-out by the end of the next decade, which stands in contrast to continued investment in natural gas infrastructure in the EU.

In order to align with 1.5°C pathways, carbon intensity needs to fall to 50 gCO2/kWh by 2030, with some scenarios reaching 0 gCO2/kWh by 2030 and becoming a source of negative emissions towards 2050.

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Key power sector benchmarks

Renewables shares and year of zero emissions power Including the use of BECCS

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Current targets
Required targets
2030
  1. 2030 76 to 88% Renewable share
2037
  1. 2037-2044 Zero emissions power
2050
  1. 2050 94 to 99% Renewable share

Footnotes