Skip to content

Current situation

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

How to citeLast update: March 2022

Emissions profile

According to preliminary estimates, the EU’s GHG emissions decreased by 31% between 1990 and 2020. Emissions including LULUCF decreased by 34%. After a decrease by around 10% in 2020, emissions are projected to increase by 7.6% in 2021. Emissions trends in subsequent years strongly depend on the implementation of the European Green Deal and the way the EU’s recovery fund is used to reduce emissions.

The electricity sector contributes the largest share of emissions, but the share has been decreasing due to the reduction of coal-fired electricity generation. In contrast, transport emissions increased by 24% between 1990 and 2019, and its share in overall emissions increased from 14% to 23% 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).

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.

the European Unionʼs current GHG emissions

MtCO₂e/yr

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 heat generation sectors. 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 lowest share of renewables at around 5%. The current EU goal is to increase the share of renewables in the transport sector to 14% by 2030.

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

  • 55% below 1990 by 2050 (incl. LULUCF and intra-EU aviation).
  • 54% below 1990 by 2030 (excl. LULUCF and excl. intra-EU aviation).

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. With the adoption of the European Climate Law in June 2021 the climate neutrality goal became legally binding.

Sector coverage

EnergyTransportIndustryWasteAgricultureLULUCF

Greenhouse gas coverage

CO₂CH₄NF₃HFCsN₂OSF₆

Sectoral targets

Energy

  • According to the existing legislation, EU’s energy consumption should not exceed 1128 Mtoe of primary energy or 846 Mtoe of final energy.6,7 The revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive proposed by the Commission in July 2021 includes a more ambitious target of reducing primary energy demand to 1023 Mtoe and final energy demand to 787 Mtoe.

Buildings

  • The Effort Sharing Regulation obliges member states to reduce emissions in sectors not covered by the EU ETS, including buildings, by between 0 and 40%, on average by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12 The Commission’s proposal from July 2021 amending this Regulations increases this range to between 10 and 50%, with average emissions reduction for the EU at 40%.
  • The Commission’s proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive from July 2021 introduces the target of increasing the share of renewables in the buildings sector to 49%.
  • Highly energy efficiency and decarbonised building stock.12

Waste

  • The Effort Sharing Regulation obliges member states to reduce emissions in sectors not covered by the EU ETS, including Waste, by between 0 and 40%, on average by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12 The Commission’s proposal from July 2021 amending this Regulations increases this range to between 10 and 50%, with average emissions reduction for the EU at 40%.

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
  • The Commission’s proposal amending the Regulation on Land Use, Forestry and Agriculture from July 2021 introduces the target for carbon removals by natural sinks equivalent to 310 MtCO₂ by 2030.

Power

  • Reducing emissions covered by the EU ETS (mostly power and industry) by 43% between 2005 and 2030.9 To achieve the recently adopted emissions reduction goal, in July 2021 the Commission presented a “proposal“https://ec.europa.eu/clima/eu-action/eu-emissions-trading-system-eu-ets_en for a revised EU ETS that increases this emissions reduction goal to 62%.

Transport

  • The Effort Sharing Regulation obliges member states to reduce emissions in sectors not covered by the EU ETS, including transport, by between 0 and 40%, on average by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12 The Commission’s proposal from July 2021 amending this law increases this range to between 10 and 50%, with average emissions reduction for the EU at 40%.
  • Under the current legislation, average emissions from new passenger cars sold in 2030 should be 37.5% below the average emissions in 2021.11 European Commission’s proposal from July 2021 increases this emissions reduction goal to 55% and creates a new goal of 100% reduction by 2035.
  • Currently, average emissions from new light commercial vehicles sold in 2030 must be 31% below the average emissions in 2021.11 The European Commission’s proposal from July 2021 increases this emissions reduction goal to 50% and creates a new goal of 100% reduction by 2035.
  • For heavy duty vehicles, average emissions of new vehicles sold in 2030 should decrease by 30% in comparison to the average emissions between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020.10

Agriculture

The Effort Sharing Regulation obliges member states to reduce emissions in sectors not covered by the EU ETS, including Agriculture, by between 0 and 40%, on average by 30% between 2005 and 2030.12 The Commission’s proposal from July 2021 amending this Regulations increases this range to between 10 and 50%, with average emissions reduction for the EU at 40%.

Footnotes