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EU on track to meet greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy 2020 targets, progress in 2019 shows more ambitious long-term objectives are reachable

News Published 30 Nov 2020 Last modified 02 Dec 2020
3 min read
Photo: © Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash
Thanks to steady improvements in emission reductions and renewables uptake, the European Union is likely to achieve two of its three 2020 climate and energy targets, namely reducing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting renewable energy, according to the European Environment Agency's (EEA) Trends and Projections report published today. Achieving the third target — reducing energy consumption — still looks unclear.

The EEA report ‘Trends and projections in Europe 2020’ tracks progress the EU’s 27 Member States (plus the United Kingdom) are making towards Europe’s climate and energy targets. The analysis is based on data on greenhouse gas emissions and energy up to 2019, officially reported in 2020, and complemented by the EEA’s own preliminary estimates for missing data.

The EU on track to its 2020 emission target, but national situations differ

In 2019, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-27 decreased by almost 4 %. This one-year drop was unprecedented over the last decade and occurred before the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 drop took place in a period of economic growth, reflecting the strong and steady growth of renewable energy in Europe and the result of cumulative long-term, sustained efforts toward lower emissions levels.

Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU have been steadily declining, with emissions in the EU-27 falling to 24 % below 1990 levels in 2019. This highlights the results of effective climate policies implemented across the EU and shows that it is clearly possible to achieve more ambitious reduction targets by 2030, paving the way for a climate neutral EU by 2050.

The fast decarbonisation of the EU’s power sector has been driving major and sustained emission reductions in the sectors covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). In the other sectors (transport, buildings, agriculture), the achievement by Member States of their national annual ‘Effort Sharing’ emissions targets over the period 2013-2020 has been consistent, but the overall EU-level overachievement has been narrowing. In 2019, preliminary estimates point towards 12 countries with emission levels greater than their annual targets: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Poland.

Renewable energy 2020 target on track

Preliminary EEA data suggest that the EU-27 achieved a total share of energy consumed from renewable sources of 19.4 % in 2019. The EU is therefore on track to the 2020 target of a minimum 20 % share. While the shares of electricity, heating and cooling provided by renewables helped meet the overall EU target, reaching the target of 10 % energy needs for transport to be supplied by renewable sources by 2020 remains tenuous. The EEA’s estimate for 2019 indicates that 14 Member States need to make further efforts to reach their 2020 target levels. These countries are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Energy efficiency: risk of not meeting 2020 targets

Efforts to achieve the 2020 energy efficiency targets have not been enough. According to EEA estimates for 2019, final energy consumption in the EU-27 stabilised in 2019, but only nine Member States (Finland, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) were on track toward their respective 2020 final energy efficiency targets. All other Member States need to make further efforts to curb their national energy demand and achieve their 2020 targets.

Impact of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is likely to make the 2020 targets easier to achieve. While not yet quantified, there are strong indications that the economic downturn in 2020 has sharply reduced overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, in particular in the transport sector, with the share of energy consumed from renewable sources likely having increased. The impact of COVID-19 related potential reductions might be short-lived and emissions might rebound as economic activities return to pre-COVID levels.

Reducing GHG emissions: much more work needed towards 2030, 2050

While recent trends suggest achievement or overachievement of the 2020 emissions reductions targets, remaining on track to meet the 2030 and 2050 objectives will demand sustained and long-term efforts. The latest national projections reported to the EEA, which do not yet fully reflect all national energy and climate plans, indicate a rather conservative outlook, with relatively moderate emission reductions by 2030 in the absence of new measures. Further effort will be necessary to achieve the emission reduction targets that have already been set for 2030, and even more if their ambition level is increased in line with the proposed EU climate neutrality goal by 2050. The packages of recovery measures prepared at the national and European levels provide a unique opportunity to direct short-term and long-term investments towards activities fully compatible with Europe’s climate neutrality and sustainability objectives.

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