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European Union Ambition gap

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

How to citeLast update: August 2022

1.5°C compatible pathways

Achieving 1.5°C compatibility would require the EU to reduce emissions to 68% below 1990 levels excluding LULUCF by 2030 (roughly 1548 MtCO₂e excluding LULUCF sinks). This is 51% below EU’s approximated emissions in 2020, excluding LULUCF. Reaching this goal requires a significant acceleration in emissions reductions of at least 174 MtCO₂e/yr between 2021-2030. To compare, coal phase-out and the development of renewables between 2011-2018 resulted in average yearly emissions reductions of 53 MtCO₂e/yr.

The current goal of reducing emissions of ‘at least 55%’ incl. LULUCF (53% excl. LULUCF), would leave an emissions gap of 713 MtCO₂e/yr in 2030.

In addition to strengthening its emissions reduction goal, the EU also needs to strengthen its policies to reach more ambitious goals. The policies adopted by the EU and its member states would only result in emissions reductions of 41-47% (excl. LULUCF).

Long term pathway

To be compatible with 1.5°C pathways, the EU’s emissions (excl. LULUCF) need to fall by 93% below 1990 levels or 355 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050.15 The majority of these remaining emissions will be from the agriculture sector, and in some scenarios, from the industry sector. Emissions from the energy sector are projected to be negative by the 2040s, and even the late 2030s in some scenarios.16

According to the EU’s analysis conducted in 2018 for the EU27+UK, estimates that EU would need reduce emissions by between 95% (for Scenario 1.5TECH) and 92% (for Scenario 1.5LIFE) to reach a net zero goal. The remaining emissions would be almost completely balanced by sinks from 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.


the European Unionʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 1990
4 871MtCO₂e/yr

Energy system transformation

Analysed 1.5°C compatible emissions scenarios show that CO₂ emissions need to decrease by 61-74% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and reach reduction levels of 97-104% by 2050. Scenarios with the slowest emissions reductions to 2050 require much higher levels of negative emissions in the second half of the century. Depending on the scenario, the deployment of negative emissions starts between 2045 and 2064.

Almost all scenarios indicate a decrease in primary energy consumption – by 9-34% in 2030 and 2-37% in 2050. In the latter case, only one scenario with high reliance on negative emissions results in an increase in energy consumption – up 9% from 2017.

Our scenarios show renewables have the potential to generate up to 100% of electricity by the middle of the century. The rest of the electricity would need to come from carbon dioxide removal technologies such as BECCS and nuclear.


the European Unionʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
201920302040205040 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
201920302040205040 000
Low energy demand
201920302040205040 000
High energy demand - Low CDR reliance
201920302040205040 000
  • Renewables incl. biomass
  • Unabated fossil
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS

the European Unionʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

−1 00001 0002 0003 0004 00019902010203020502070
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for the European Union. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
4 871
3 610
1 548
1 438 to 1 877
462 to 974
−103 to 472
Relative to reference year in %
−70 to −61%
−91 to −80%
−102 to −90%
Total CO₂
3 878
2 918
1 298
1 014 to 1 525
100 to 660
−313 to 231
2044 to 2063
Relative to reference year in %
−74 to −61%
−97 to −83%
−108 to −94%