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European Union Sectors

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

How to citeLast update: March 2022

Power sector in 2030

The emissions intensity of electricity generation in the EU fell from 301 gCO₂e/kWh in 2017 to 231 gCO₂e/kWh in 2020. This decrease was mainly due to an increase in the share of renewables to 39% in in the same time period. The 1.5°C compatible emissions scenarios require a decrease in emissions intensity to around 50 gCO₂/kWh in 2030. This future decrease would mostly result from increasing the share of renewables in the power sector to between 77-79% by 2030 compared to 2019. This 1.5°C compatible share in 2030 is much above the results of the European Commission’s analysis of 55% emissions reduction goal with a share of renewables set to increase to only around 65%.

Renewables would need to replace coal, which should be phased out by 2029. The share of natural gas would need to decrease from 18% in 2017 to 4-5% in 2030. According to the scenarios, natural gas consumption for electricity generation could be phased out between 2037-2040. Contrary to the consumption of primary energy, consumption of electricity is set to increase in almost all scenarios, with the share of renewables reaching up to 88% in scenarios assuming low uptake of negative emissions post-2050.

Towards a fully decarbonised power sector

Increasing the share of renewables, combined with coal phase-out by 2030, a decreasing role of natural gas and its phase-out before 2040, and the deployment of negative emissions technologies starting in the 2030s results in power sector reaching zero emissions between 2035 and 2045, with negative emissions from then on.

In some scenarios by 2050 between 4-10% of electricity in the EU could be generated from negative emissions technologies (NETs) such as BECCS installations. Scenarios assuming very high and early deployment of renewables (between 6-7-fold increase by 2050 in comparison to 2017), as well as those prioritising energy efficiency achieve zero emissions without NETs by 2050.

By 2050 – and in some scenarios already by 2040 – almost all energy comes from renewables and NETs (in this case BECCS). The share of fossil fuels decreases to less than 3% by 2040, and to 0% by 2050. Most of it would possibly be small combined heat and power plants, steadily replaced by low carbon alternatives.

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 power mix

gigawatt

Scaling
Dimension
SSP1 Low CDR reliance
20192030204020504 0006 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
20192030204020504 0006 000
Low Energy Demand
20192030204020504 0006 000
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
20192030204020504 0006 000
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS
  • Unabated fossil
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS

the European Unionʼs power sector emissions and carbon intensity

MtCO₂/yr

Unit
−50005001 00019902010203020502070
  • Historical emissions
  • Low Energy Demand
  • SSP1 Low CDR reliance
  • SSP1 High CDR reliance
  • High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance

1.5°C compatible power sector benchmarks

Carbon intensity, renewable generation share, and fossil fuel generation share from illustrative 1.5°C pathways for the European Union

Indicator
2019
2030
2040
2050
Decarbonised power sector by
Carbon intensity of power
gCO₂/kWh
240
50 to 60
0
−70 to −10
2038 to 2040
Relative to reference year in %
−79 to −77%
−100%
−130 to −103%
Indicator
2019
2030
2040
2050
Year of phase-out
Share of unabated coal
Percent
17
1 to 2
0
0
2029
Share of unabated gas
Percent
20
9 to 11
0
0
2037 to 2040
Share of renewable energy
Percent
34
59 to 75
75 to 91
94
Share of unabated fossil fuel
Percent
39
11 to 15
0
0

Footnotes