Total greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe

Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU decreased by 31% between 1990 and 2020 — exceeding the EU’s 2020 target by 11 percentage points. This overshoot was propelled by steep emission cuts in 2019 and 2020. While the cut in 2019 was strongly driven by fossil fuel price effects and policy measures, the decline in 2020 was additionally related to the Covid-19 pandemic. EU greenhouse gas emissions are expected to further decline until 2030. Member States have not yet realigned their ambitions to the new net 55% reduction target for 2030, and the further implementation of impactful policies and measures will be important to bring the new 2030 target within reach.

Published: ‒ 25min read

Figure 1. Historical trends and future projections of greenhouse gas emissions
Historical trends and future projections of greenhouse gas emissions

The EU markedly surpassed its 2020 emissions reduction target of 20%. According to recent estimates, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU Member States were 31% lower in 2020 than they were in 1990, exceeding the EU’s climate target by 11 percentage points. With one exception in 2017, the EU’s GHG emissions were below the 2020 reduction target for the past 7 years, with the rapid decline in emissions observed in the last 2 years contributing significantly to this overshoot. These achievements include emissions from international aviation and do not account for land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) contributions.

The emissions decrease in 2020 compared with the previous year was 10% — making it the second year in a row with the steepest annual reduction seen in the last decade. The remarkable reduction of 4% achieved in 2019 was strongly driven by policy measures such as the substitution of coal by gas and renewable energy sources for power generation. The circumstances in 2020 were much different from 2019 and decreasing emissions caused by reduced energy use from economic activities and transport were largely related to the effects of the measures addressing the Covid-19 pandemic. The extent to which climate change mitigation measures also contributed to the decline in 2020 is currently unclear.

Looking towards climate mitigation targets for 2030, the EU’s total GHG emissions[1] are expected to continue declining to a net emissions reduction of 41%. Most Member States have not yet realigned their ambitions to the new net 55% reduction target for 2030, and the further introduction of more impactful policies and measures across Europe will be necessary to bring the new 2030 target within reach.

The EU’s aim to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 will require a realistic and resilient emissions pathway into the future. The agreement and subsequent implementation of the EU policy proposals addressing the EU's ambitious 2030 and 2050 targets (compared with 1990 and including removals) is therefore fundamental to keep bending the emission trend while recovering from the pandemic.

[1] Greenhouse gas projections submitted by Germany are preliminary.

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

Three key EU policies address GHG emissions and removals: the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS); the Effort Sharing legislation; and the legislation on emissions and removals from LULUCF.

The ETS covers large power stations, large industrial plants, large district heating plants and aviation, representing about 40% of total EU emissions. Emissions have decreased by 41% since 2005, driven by the decarbonisation of the EU power sector. A particularly significant annual emissions reduction of 12% took place in 2020, strongly related to measures curbing the Covid-19 pandemic.

National GHG reduction targets are governed by the Effort Sharing legislation. The national targets cover sectors such as transport, buildings, non-ETS industry, agriculture and waste. Emissions have fallen by 15% since 2005, much less than the reductions seen in ETS emissions, reflecting higher abatement costs. There was a strong decrease of 6% between 2019 and 2020, which can be largely ascribed to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

By 2030, EU projections submitted by Member States point to a 29% reduction in Effort Sharing emissions compared with 2005 levels and a 47% reduction for ETS emissions compared with 2005 levels (not taking into account the new targets for 2030 and 2050 and the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ policy proposals to address them).

The LULUCF sector at EU level represents a net carbon sink of about 249 Mt CO2e in 2019, corresponding to the absorption of 7% of total GHG emissions.

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