Net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions including international aviation in the EU-27 decreased by 30% between 1990 and 2021. Despite the energy crisis causing higher emissions from energy production, preliminary estimates for 2022 indicate a further year-on-year reduction of 1.9%. The EU Member States’ current projections suggest that a 48% reduction in net emissions will be reached by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Although this indicates an increased ambition from the 41% projected last year, this will still leave a seven percentage point gap to the 2030 target. This will need to be addressed rapidly to achieve the required reductions.

Figure 1. Progress towards achieving climate targets in the EU-27

Progress towards achieving climate targets in the EU-27

The reduction of GHG emissions is vital to slow the rate of global warming and mitigate its impact on our environment and on human health. The EU is a frontrunner in climate ambition, with the European Climate Law setting the binding target to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest, and to reduce net GHG emissions by at least 55% in 2030 compared to 1990. The EU has taken significant steps to fulfill these ambitions.

Compared to 1990, net EU GHG emissions in 2021 had fallen by 30%, while prosperity significantly increased over the same period. This achievement includes emissions from international aviation and takes the carbon sink from the land use, land use change and forestry sector (LULUCF) into account.

The reduction in net GHG emissions has primarily taken place within the past two decades alongside a gradual strengthening of policies to reduce GHG emissions. The overall decrease can be largely attributed to shifts in energy production methods, notably a significant decline in coal usage and growth in the adoption of renewable energy sources. Additionally, there has been a modest reduction in total energy consumption, and substantial decreases in GHG emissions linked to specific industrial production processes, as documented earlier by the EEA.

Preliminary estimates indicate that, in 2022, net GHG emissions fell by a further 1.9% below 2021 levels, which can be largely explained by the energy crisis. Spiking gas prices led to energy savings and reduced GHG emissions in the buildings sector, while output decreases in energy-intensive industries caused a significant emission reduction. At the same time, emissions rose in the power sector due to a partial switch to more CO2 - intensive coal generation.

Compared with the pace of emission reductions observed during the past 10 years, the average annual rate of absolute GHG emission reductions must more than triple to reach the 2030 climate target. Current and planned policy measures across the EU are expected to help contribute to the required acceleration. According to Member States’ projections as submitted in March 2023, the policies and measures they currently have in place combined would achieve a reduction of 43% in net emission levels by 2030 compared to 1990. If planned additional measures are taken into account, the projected reduction would reach 48%. Last year, Member States only projected this reduction to total 41%, indicating a shared increase in ambition across Europe in the past year. However, this will still leave a gap of seven percentage points to the 2030 target, which will need to be addressed rapidly to achieve the required reductions.

The update of National Energy and Climate Plans, for which final versions are due to be submitted in June 2024, may include pathways to focus on this shortfall. Generally, all sectors will need to be addressed by strengthened policies and measures. Specifically, in the buildings sector, there exists significant cost-effective potential to reduce GHG emissions by 2030. The transport and agricultural sectors also require substantial additional efforts, given their limited progress in recent years.

Looking beyond 2030, the gap between the targets and the projected impact of current and planned measures is even wider. Taking into account currently adopted and planned measures, net emissions are projected to reach a level of 60% below 1990 levels in 2040 and 64% in 2050. This indicates the need for transformative policies across all sectors to reach climate neutrality.

Figure 2. Effort Sharing, ETS, LULUCF trends and projections in the EU-27

Effort Sharing, ETS, LULUCF trends and projections in the EU-27

Three pivotal EU policies target GHG emissions and removals, and each is accompanied by clear binding targets for 2030.

The EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS) covers the GHG emissions from stationary installations in the power sector and large industrial plants; since 2012, it has also included CO2 emissions from aviation. ETS emissions from stationary installations have decreased by 38% between 2005 and 2022, largely driven by the decarbonisation of the power sector. In 2022, stationary EU ETS emissions showed a further 2% decrease compared to 2021, with higher energy prices leading to reduced output in industry and a temporal increased use of coal in the power sector. At the same time, aviation ETS emissions increased by more than 80% as the sector rebounded from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2030, projections taking into account current and planned measures indicate a 59% reduction compared to 2005 for stationary installations, falling slightly short of the 62% reduction target for the EU ETS.

National GHG reduction targets are governed by the Effort Sharing legislation, covering sectors such as transport, buildings and agriculture. The reduction in these emissions has been less pronounced compared to those governed by the EU ETS, showing a 14% decrease between 2005 and 2021, with estimates for 2022 indicating a further 3% decrease. Projections suggest a considerable gap towards 2030, with the emissions reaching a reduction of 32% compared with the target of 40%.

The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector represented a net carbon sink of about 230Mt CO2e in 2021, corresponding to the absorption of 7% of total GHG emissions. Over the last decade, the carbon sink has been shrinking continuously, although the initial estimates for 2022 show a reversal of this trend. GHG projections as submitted by Member States in March 2023 foresee a further increase of the carbon sink, but not at a growth rate that would permit achievement of the target level of -310 Mt CO2eq by 2030.