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Trends and projections: limited rebound in EU emissions amid post-pandemic recovery and energy crisis

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News Published 26 Oct 2022 Last modified 01 Dec 2022
4 min read
Photo: © Karsten Würth on Unsplash
Greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption rose in 2021 due mostly to Europe’s post-pandemic recovery, according to the latest ‘Trends and Projections’ report published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Most EU Member States successfully achieved the EU’s 2020 climate and energy targets and are now turning their sights toward climate neutrality while also addressing the current energy supply crisis. Achieving the more ambitious 2030 climate and energy targets will demand more than a doubling of annual progress in the roll-out of renewables, the reduction of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Saving energy and strengthening renewable energy sources are critical not only to tackle the immediate energy crisis but also to achieve climate neutrality.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

Following a long period of falling greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, economic recovery from the Covid-19 lockdowns has led to an increase in emissions, particularly in the transport, industry and energy supply sectors, according to data reported for the EEA report Trends and Projections in Europe 2022. With a looming energy crisis and in particular a high gas price, the energy supply sector saw a partial switch to more carbon-intensive energy fuels, while the strong growth in renewable energy observed in recent years lost pace in 2021. To counter this development, it is crucial that energy infrastructure decisions today take into account the climate neutrality target of the future to avoid carbon lock-in effects.

“Critical action will be needed in the coming months and years to ensure EU Member States can put in place ambitious emission reduction plans to meet EU climate targets. While short-term measures to boost energy supplies are needed this winter, these investments should not lock Europe into many more years of fossil fuel dependency. Saving energy and strengthening renewable energy sources are critical not only to tackle the immediate energy crisis but also to achieve climate neutrality,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director.

Emissions rebound; energy consumption goes up

According to preliminary data reported by EU Member States, greenhouse gas emissions rose by 5% in 2021 from 2020, including international aviation. The emissions, however, remain well below the pre-COVID level of 2019.

Estimates suggest energy consumption increased in 2021 in both primary and final energy consumption, of 6% and 5% respectively, compared to 2020. Primary energy consumption measures energy demand, while final energy consumption refers to what end users actually use. This increase in energy use can be largely attributed to the economic recovery. In 2021 the effect of rising energy prices on the annual consumption figures was not yet visible, it can be expected that this will be more apparent in 2022.

Preliminary data suggest that Europe’s total share of renewable energy sources remained at 22% of energy consumption in 2021, pausing the otherwise strong growth in recent years. This can be explained by lesser contributions from wind power and hydro power in 2021, alongside rebounds in energy consumption.

Critical year ahead for progress on 2030 targets

In coming years, substantial emissions reductions will need to be sustained year-on-year to achieve climate neutrality in the long term. With the European Climate law, the 2030 reduction target was increased to at least 55% net greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. At this moment the European Parliament and the member states are negotiating the comprehensive Fit for 55 package, while also taking into account the proposed RePower EU plan of 2022.

To reach the 2030 target of 55% net GHG emissions, emissions would need to decline by 134 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2 eq) per year on average from the 2021 estimated levels. This is more than twice the average yearly reduction that was achieved between 1990 and 2020. All sectors need to significantly step up their efforts in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the CO2 removal through land use, land use change and forestry must be increased, reversing the current trend of a shrinking carbon sink in the EU.

At the same time, energy use should substantially decrease over the next years — the newly proposed 2030 target in the context of REPower EU requires more than a doubling of annual energy savings in the period 2022-2030. The same applies to renewable energies: since 2005, the share of renewable energy in Europe’s gross final energy consumption has grown by an average 0.8 percentage points every year. This number should increase to 2.5 percentage points per year towards 2030 in order to meet the increased 45% renewable energy target proposed in REPowerEU.

At Member State level, while substantial progress has been made already, the current policies and measures are not sufficient to meet the new ambitious climate and energy targets. By mid-2023, Member States will submit draft updates of their national energy and climate plans. This will give them the opportunity to step up their measures and develop plans for the period up to 2030 that reflect the new EU ambitions and the goal of climate neutrality.

 

EEA’s climate and energy package:

Updated climate and energy indicators:

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