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

Last update: June 2021

Emissions profile

The EU’s GHG emissions decreased by 24% between 1990 and 2019. A significant, but temporary decrease is expected for 2020, due to the pandemic-induced economic recession.2 We know that energy-related CO₂ emissions fell by around 10% in 2020.3 While a rebound in emissions growth is expected in 2021, emissions trends in subsequent years strongly depends on the implementation of the European Green Deal and the way the EU’s recovery fund is used to mitigate emissions.

The electricity sector contributes the largest share of emissions, which has been decreasing due to the reduction of coal-fired electricity generation. In contrast, transport emissions increased to 23% between 1990 and 2018, and its share in overall emissions increased from 14% to 22% in the same period. The emissions trends in the industry and buildings sectors have also increased over the same period.

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).

The European Unionʼs current GHG emissions

MtCO₂e/yr

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Displayed values

By sector

  • Power
  • Transport
  • Buildings
  • Industry (energy use)
  • Other
  • Fugitive emissions
  • Agriculture
  • Industry (processes)
  • Waste
  • LULUCF
Energy (77%)⟵ LULUCF negative emissions

By gas

  • CO₂
  • CH₄
  • N₂O
  • Other
079%0

Sectors by gas

Energy
097%0
Agriculture
00
Industry (processes)
069%0

Energy system

Emissions reductions in the EU have been mainly driven by the decreasing share of coal in primary energy consumption – from 26% in 1990 to less than 12% in 2019. Despite a small decrease, oil remained the main source of energy, providing around a third of the EU’s gross energy in 2019.

The decreasing share of coal and oil was compensated by renewable generation, the share of which increased in the same period from less than 5% to almost 16%. Natural gas also increased by 6% to reach 23.1% in 2019. But it has declined from its peak of 23.3%, reached in 2010.

The most fundamental changes have occurred in electricity and accompanied heat generation. In both cases, the share of renewables increased significantly: by almost 20% and 27% respectively. The industry sector’s share of renewables has also increased, but in 2010 this source of energy covered less than 10% of directly consumed energy. Transport is the sector with the least change, with oil consumption increasing by 23%.

The current EU goal is to increase the share of renewables in the transport sector to 14% by 2030. By then the combined emissions from sectors covered by emissions trading – especially electricity and industry – should decrease by 43% in comparison to 2005. However, the new emissions reduction goal of ‘at least 55%’ (incl. LULUCF) will require significant strengthening of these goals.

The EU has taken action to reduce its coal-fired electricity generation, resulting in installed capacity decreasing by 10% between 2018 and 2021. Only seven EU countries are planning to operate their coal power plants after 2030. However, this includes the two largest emitters in the EU: Poland and Germany. The latter has already adopted legislation to phase-out coal by 2038.

Targets and commitments

Economy-wide targets

Target type

Base year emissions target

NDC target

  • As expressed by the country: 55% below 1990 by 2050 (incl. LULUCF).
  • Re-expressed excluding LULUCF below selected baseline: 52.8% below 1990 by 2030 (excl. LULUCF).

Market mechanism

  • In 2005 the EU introduced Emissions Trading Mechanism (EU ETS) covering emissions from electricity generation, introduced and intra-EU aviation. Currently the EU ETS covers around 45% of the EU’s emissions.

Long-term target

  • In December 2019 heads of the EU member states agreed on the goal of reaching “climate neutrality” by 2050 without specifying exactly what this goal includes.4 An indication has been provided by the European Commissions in its Analysis of climate neutral economy.5 Out of eight scenarios presented, two result in emissions reduction of 89% and 90%, with almost all of the remaining emissions counterbalanced by carbon removals.

Sector coverage

EnergyTransportIndustryWasteAgricultureLULUCF

Greenhouse gas coverage

CO₂CH₄NF₃HFCsN₂OSF₆

Sectoral targets

Energy

  • Reducing energy consumption to less than 1128 Mtoe of primary energy or 846 Mtoe of final energy.6,7
  • At least 32% of the energy consumed in the EU in 2030 should be coming from renewable sources of energy.8

Note: These goals are set to be updated in the implementation framework of the new emissions reduction goal of ‘at least 55%’.

Buildings

  • Emissions reduction for non-EU ETS sector by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12
  • ‘Highly energy efficiency and decarbonised building stock.12

LULUCF

  • For the periods 2021-2025 and 2026-2030, each member states shall ensure that emissions from the LULUCF sector do not exceed removals. However, this goal is weakened by some exceptions and flexibilities.13

Power

  • Reducing emissions covered by the EU ETS (mostly power and industry) by 43% between 2005 and 2030.9

Transport

  • Emissions reduction for non-EU ETS sector by 30% between 2005 and 2030.
  • At least 14% of energy consumed in the EU in 2030 should be coming from renewables.8
  • Emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles, passenger cars and vans.10,11

Waste

  • Emissions reduction for non-EU ETS sector by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12

Agriculture

  • Emissions reduction for non-EU ETS sector by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12

Footnotes