Progress towards national greenhouse gas emissions targets in Europe

Under the EU’s Effort Sharing legislation — which sets national 10% reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions in sectors not covered by the EU-ETS — emissions fell by 16% between 2005 and 2020. Following a sharp 6% drop during 2020, preliminary estimates for 2021 show a post-pandemic rebound of 3%, driven by an increase in transport emissions. Preliminary data suggest that in 2021 — the first year of the new target period up to 2030 — five countries have not met national targets, while emissions of four countries were already below their national emissions limits for 2030. These limits for the period 2021-2030 predate the European Climate law and are currently being revised to ensure delivery of the EU’s ambitious net emission target of -55% by 2030.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The Effort Sharing legislation sets national greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets. It covers sectors that are not part of Europe's Emissions Trading System (ETS)such as transport, energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings, agriculture (animals and soils), small industrial installations, small energy-generation facilities and waste management. GHG emissions in the Effort Sharing sectors account for more than 60% of total EU GHG emissions.

National targets under the Effort Sharing legislation vary across Member States, contingent on their gross domestic product (GDP). Under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), targets ranged from a 20% reduction by 2020 compared with 2005 for the wealthiest country to a 20% increase for the least wealthy country. These national 2020 targets corresponded to a 10% reduction in the Effort Sharing sector at EU level, which was in line with the EU target of reducing all GHG emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

The EU met its 2020 Effort Sharing target. In 2020, EU Effort Sharing emissions were 16% lower than in 2005 and therefore significantly below the 10% reduction goal under the ESD. Between 2005 and 2014, Effort Sharing emissions fell, but less so than ETS emissions, reflecting differences in the sectors covered. From 2015-2019, emissions grew above 2014 levels, mainly because of increased transport emissions. The sharp drop of 6% between 2019 and 2020 was largely related to the COVID-19 pandemic and contributed significantly to the overachievement of the EU target under the ESD.

Preliminary data for 2021 indicate a post-pandemic rebound. Following the drop in 2020, Effort Sharing emissions increased by 3% in 2021 but remain below 2019 levels. The main driving factor was growing emissions in the transport sector, with an estimated increase of 8% in 2021 — a trend that can be attributed to changed commuting and travelling patterns after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current national reduction targets for 2030 under the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) are intended to result in an EU-level reduction of 30% and range from 0-40% compared with 2005 levels. Following the increased ambition of reducing net GHG emissions in the EU by 55% by 2030, the European Commission proposed an amendment of the ESR, including an emission reduction of 40% compared to 2005 levels for the Effort Sharing sectors. The newly proposed national reduction targets are more stringent and range from 10-50% by 2030 compared with 2005.

In 2020, GHG emissions of all EU countries except Cyprus, Ireland and Malta remained below their respective initially allocated annual Effort Sharing targets. Looking over the entire period 2013-2020, only three countries (Germany, Ireland and Malta) exceeded their initially allocated emission budgets under the ESD. This means these four countries will need to use additional ‘flexibilities’ to comply with their Effort Sharing target for the period 2013-2020.

Preliminary data for 2021 allow for an initial analysis of progress towards the first year of the target period 2021-2030 under the ESR. The estimated progress to target shows that five countries approximated inventory figures for 2021 (Cyprus, Czechia, Ireland, Italy and Norway) were above their annual Effort Sharing emission allocations in this first year of the target period. At the same time, four Member States (Croatia, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia) already show GHG emission levels in 2021 that are below their Effort Sharing emission allocations for 2030. The final effort sharing emissions in 2021 will be available in 2023.

Greenhouse gas emission projections reported by countries in 2021 and most recent updates submitted in 2022 by Denmark, Iceland, Ireland and Latvia indicate that 15 countries are expected to fall short of their respective national 2030 targets under the ESR. Countries will need to step up their efforts to reach the 2030 targets under the ESR, especially in view of the increased ambition proposed for the national 2030 targets under the ESR following the increased ambition of reducing net GHG emissions in the EU by 55% by 2030.

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