Total greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe - 8th EAP

Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU decreased by 32% between 1990 and 2020, a notable overachievement of the EU’s 2020 reduction target of 20%. Preliminary estimates indicate that emissions rebounded in 2021 but remain below pre-COVID-19 levels. The 2021 emissions increase was driven by the recovery from the pandemic and a greater uptake of energy sources with higher emissions in the second half of 2021. To bring the 2030 target within reach, EU Member States will need to align their ambitions and efforts, in order to achieve the new net 55% reduction.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The EU surpassed its 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target of 20%. According to official data reported by Member States in 2022, EU GHG emissions were 32% lower in 2020 than in 1990, exceeding the EU’s climate target by 12 percentage points. The steep decline in emissions observed in 2020, which was related to the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly contributed to this overshoot. Nonetheless, emission levels have been below the 2020 target since 2018. These achievements include emissions from international aviation and do not account for carbon sinks from the land use, land use change and forestry sector (LULUCF).

Preliminary emissions data for 2021 indicate a post-pandemic rebound, though greenhouse gas emissions remained below pre-pandemic levels. EU greenhouse gas emissions increased by 5% in 2021 compared to 2020, largely driven by the economic recovery observed when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted across Europe. Another factor contributing to the recent emissions increase was rising gas prices in the second half of 2021. The resulting shift from gas to lignite and hard coal for power generation continues in 2022 with growing uncertainties over Russian gas imports to the EU.

Looking ahead to the climate targets for 2030, the EU’s GHG emissions are expected to continue declining to a net emissions reduction of 41%. These GHG projections reported by Member States in 2021 and 2022 have not yet reflected efforts to reach the net 55% target for 2030, which has been agreed in the European Climate law. In their next submission of GHG projections and National Climate and Energy plans, Member States will need to consider the EU policy proposals of the ‘Fit for 55’ package and the REPowerEU plan to bring the 2030 target within reach ­— while also ensuring energy security and the recovery from the pandemic in the short- and mid-term.

In the longer term, the EU aims to become climate neutral by 2050. This will require emissions reductions of more than twice the average reduction that was achieved each year between 1990 and 2020. The agreement on and implementation of the EU policy proposals addressing the ambitious 2030 and 2050 targets is therefore fundamental.

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 ‘cap-and-trade’ system of the ETS covers large power stations, large industrial plants, large district heating plants and aviation, representing about 40% of total EU emissions. ETS emissions have decreased by 37% between 2005 and 2021, largely driven by the decarbonisation of the EU power sector. A particularly significant annual emissions reduction of 12% took place in 2020, strongly related to the measures put in place to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. This emissions have since rebounded by 7% in 2021.

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. Effort sharing emissions have fallen by 13% between 2005 and 2021, much less than the reductions seen in ETS emissions.

By 2030, EU projections submitted by Member States point to a 29% reduction in Effort Sharing emissions and a 47% reduction in ETS emissions compared to 2005 levels. Updated GHG projections will be reported by Member States in 2023.

At the EU level, the LULUCF sector represented a net carbon sink of about 230Mt CO2e in 2020, corresponding to the absorption of 7% of total GHG emissions. Preliminary estimates for 2021 suggest that the sink decreased in size by 8% compared with 2020. Over the last decade, the carbon sink within the EU has shrunk by about a third. Measures currently in place are not projected to reverse this trend. Through implementation of additional planned measures, the EU’s carbon sink is projected to increase between 2021 and 2030.

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