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CO2 intensity of heat and electricity generation

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Assessment versions

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Justification for indicator selection

The EU’s current energy system remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Nearly 80 % of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-27 are caused by energy production (i.e. electricity and heat, refining), energy use by the industry, services and households, and transport. Heat and electricity generation leads to significant emissions of greenhouse gas. Reduction of CO2 emissions, including from the power sector, are needed in many countries to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets as agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. Understanding what is driving the CO2 intensity of heat and electricity generation can help identify successful policies for reducing the environmental impacts of this sector.

Scientific references:

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

Annual emissions of CO2 in UNFCCC reporting format (In Mt = million tonnes).

For CO2 only, the (national) totals do not include emissions from biomass burning or emissions or removals from land-use change and forestry (LUCF). The energy sector is responsible for energy-related emissions, such as those arising from fuel combustion activities and fugitive emissions from fuels. Fuel combustion activities include: energy industries, manufacturing industries and construction, transport, other sectors and other stationary or mobile emissions from fuel combustion. Fugitive emissions from fuels include: solid fuels and oil and natural gas.



Emission of pollutants:  Mt = Megatonnes

Policy context and targets

Context description

Emissions of CO2 from fossil combustion in electricity and heat production contribute significantly to total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. The indicator estimates to what extent changes in efficiency, fuel mix and pollution abatement have influenced the CO2 intensity of electricity and heat production. These changes cannot directly be associated with the policies and measures introduced, but can provide an indication of their aggregate impact.

The trends evident in this factsheet, together with projections in other factsheets (e.g. see EN01), indicate that additional policy measures will need to be implemented in order to meet the EU’s longer-term emissions reduction targets, particularly for CO2. In addition to the EU’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (of which CO2 is the main gas) under the Kyoto Protocol, In March 2007, the Council of the European Union decided that EU would make a firm independent commitment to achieving at least a 20 % reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. It also endorsed an EU objective of a 30 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions.

The total emissions of CO2 from electricity and heat production depend on both the amount of electricity and heat produced as well as the CO2 intensity per unit produced (which are also fuel specific). Therefore the policies and measures to reduce emissions need to address both demand (e.g. through improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances) to stem the rapid increase in electricity and heat production, as well as CO2 intensity per unit of electricity and heat produced (e.g. by fuel switching, generation efficiency).

A number of EU policies have contributed to efforts to curb total electricity and heat produced and CO2 intensity per unit produced. For example, the Directives establishing rules for the common market for electricity (2003/54/EC) and gas (2003/55/EC) have encouraged switching to cheaper and more efficient technologies, in particular to gas. The market liberalisation and competition resulting from these Directives also contributed to cheaper energy prices in the 1990s which may have encouraged energy consumption. However the steep increases in energy prices since 2000 and particularly after 2004, may help to constrain energy demand.

Another important policy is the integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC) which requires plants of less than 20MW to meet a set of basic energy efficiency provisions. For larger plants energy efficiency is covered by the plants’ participation within the EU greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme established by Directive 2003/87/EC. Under the Directive, each Member State was required to draw up a National Allocation Plan that included caps on CO2 emissions from all thermal electricity generating plant greater than 20 MW. A shift to less carbon intensive fuels for electricity generation, such as gas, and improvements in efficiency are important options to help generators meet their requirements under the directive.

The EC’s Green Paper on Energy Efficiency (COM(2005)265 final) highlighted opportunities to improve the efficiency of electricity and heat production by ensuring that: the most efficient CCGT technology is used; research is expanded to improve the efficiency of coal generation; the use of distributed generation is expanded particularly to make greater use of waste heat, and that in combination with this a greater use of combined heat and power (cogeneration) technology is realised. The Green Paper identified that 20% of EU energy use could be saved. The EC’s recent Action Plan for Energy Efficiency (COM(2006) 545 final) moved towards realising these savings and includes initiatives to make energy appliances, buildings, transport and energy generation more efficient, and introduces stringent new energy efficiency standards and financing mechanisms to support more energy efficient products. The EC also proposes to create a Covenant of Mayors of the 20 to 30 most pioneering cities in Europe and an international agreement on energy efficiency.


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

Key policy question

How fast are we shifting towards a less carbon intensive electricity system in Europe?

Specific policy question

What is the contribution of various non-fossil generation capacities to the decarbonisation of the electricity system in Europe?

Specific policy question

How can the decarbonisation of the electricity system help the shift towards a more sustainable transport sector?


Methodology for indicator calculation

CO2 emissions data are annual official data submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and EU Monitoring mechanism. Combination of emission estimates based on volume of activities and emission factors. Recommended methodologies for emission data collection are compiled in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (IPCC, 2006). supplemented by the Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (IPCC, 2000) and UNFCCC Guidelines (UNFCCC, 2000). Energy data collected annually by Eurostat.

Eurostat definitions for energy statistics

Eurostat metadata for energy statistics

Methodology for gap filling

Where data is not available for EU Member States, the data gap filling procedure has been used as agreed under the Monitoring Mechanism (EEA. 2007a).

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

Energy data have been traditionally compiled by Eurostat through the annual Joint Questionnaires, shared by Eurostat and the International Energy Agency, following a well-established and harmonised methodology. Methodological information on the annual Joint Questionnaires and data compilation can be found in Eurostat's web page for metadata on energy statistics:

Emissions: Officially reported data following agreed procedures. E.g. CO2 data are based upon annual submissions under the UNFCCC.

Data sets uncertainty

For energy related greenhouse gas emissions the results suggest uncertainties between ± 1 % (stationary combustion) and ± 11 % (fugitive emissions). For public electricity and heat production specifically, which is the focus of the indicator, the uncertainty is estimated to be ± 3 %. For the new Member States and some other EEA countries, uncertainties are assumed to be higher than for the EU-15 Member States because of data gaps.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Cinzia Pastorello


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
ENER 002
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Energy Energy


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DPSIR: State
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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