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

Last update: March 2022

Ambition gap

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%19902010203020502070
Reference year
1990
1.5°C emissions level
−68%
NDC
−52%
Ambition gap
−16%
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions

*Net zero emissions excl LULUCF is achieved through deployment of BECCS; other novel CDR is not included in these pathways

Summary

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. Adding ‘net’ means that it will include carbon sinks from the land use and forestry sector (LULUCF), thus weakening this goal by at least 2%. Paris Agreement compatibility for the EU would require emissions reductions of 61-70% below 1990 levels by 2030, excluding LULUCF.

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).

17 European Commision’s Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Regulation (EU) 2019/631 as regards strengthening the CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and new light commercial vehicles in line with the Union’s increased climate ambition.

18 EEA. Trends and projections in Europe 2021.

19 Example of steel production using green hydrogen and recent developments.

20 Own calculations based on ACEA data.

Initial estimates indicate that the EU reduced its emissions by 31% between 1990 and 2020 (excluding LULUCF). Current policies adopted by the EU and its member states would result in emissions reductions of 35-40% below 1990 levels by 2030 (excl. LULUCF), indicating that further substantial policy action is needed to meet the new 2030 goal.

In July 2021, the European Commission presented the “Fit for 55” legislative package of proposals amending existing laws and proposing new regulations aiming at reaching the newly adopted emissions reduction goal.

A fair share contribution to global greenhouse gas emission reductions compatible with the Paris Agreement would require the EU to go further than its domestic target, and provide substantial financial or other 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 355 MtCO₂e by 2050 or 93% 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.

Power

Key power sector benchmarks

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

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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.

Buildings

Key buildings sector benchmarks

Shares of electricity, hydrogen and biofuels in final energy demand in the buildings sector.

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Direct emissions from the buildings sector in the EU decreased by 24% between 2005 and 2020. To be compatible with the 1.5°C pathways, the EU would need to cut direct CO₂ emissions from buildings by more than a half and phase them out around late 2040s.

Almost all pathways assessed in our analysis assume a significant increase in the share of electricity in the building sector, with share of electricity in energy consumed increasing from 33% in 2017 to at least 52% in 2030, and 71% in 2050. This results mostly from electrification of heating (mostly through heat pumps) and cooking.

The Commission’s proposal to increase the share of renewable energy consumed in the households to at least 49% – more than twice the current level – by 2030 is a step in the right direction, but remain insufficient in transforming the sector.

Transport

Key transport sector benchmarks

Shares of electricity, hydrogen and biofuels in final energy demand in the transport sector.

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Contrary to the overall trend, emissions in the transport sector in the EU increased significantly since 1990.

Illustrative 1.5°C compatible pathways require a change of this trend driven mainly by electrification and to a much lesser degree deployment of green hydrogen.

The EU has seen a recent uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) and the European Commission has proposed to reduce emissions of new passenger cars by 55% by 2030 in comparison to 2021 and by 100% by 2035.17 These are positive steps towards a full decarbonisation of the EU’s transport sector.

Industry

Key industry sector benchmarks

Shares of electricity, hydrogen and biomass in final energy demand in the industry sector. Year of reaching net zero emissions Including the use of BECCS.

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Between 1990 and 2017, emissions from the industry sector in the EU decreased by 37%, with emissions from energy combustion decreasing twice as fast as process emissions.

Almost all scenarios analysed here show a significant reduction in total direct CO₂ emissions and processes emissions from the industry sector in the subsequent decades, with close to full decarbonisation of energy demand reached between 2050 and 2060. The analysed 1.5°C pathways also show an almost doubling of electrification rate of EU’s industry sector from 33% in 2019 to at least 63% in 2050.

Removing free allowances to heavy industry under the EU’s emissions trading system (EU ETS), combined with increased funding for low carbon technologies through the EU ETS Innovation Fund, could significantly reduce emissions from this sector in this decade.

Footnotes