1. Overall progress towards the European Union's '20-20-20' climate and energy targets

Briefing Published 01 Dec 2016 Last modified 10 Dec 2019
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This chapter presents a synthetic overview of the progress achieved by the EU and its Member States in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the use of energy from renewable sources and reducing energy consumption, in view of their 2020 targets.
  • The European Union (EU) is on track to meet its 2020 climate and energy targets. Official data for 2014 show that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have already decreased beyond the 20 % reduction target; the use of energy from renewable sources as a proportion of energy consumption is growing faster than initially planned by Member States in order to achieve the 20 % target level; and energy consumption is decreasing at a pace that will be sufficient to reach the 2020 target (a 20 % reduction compared with baseline projections).
  • Approximated (‘proxy’) estimates from Member States and the European Environment Agency (EEA) for 2015 confirm the overall EU trend (a 22 % reduction from 1990 levels), despite a slight increase in energy consumption and GHG emissions. These increases followed an exceptionally warm 2014, during which the amounts of energy used for heating, and the related GHG emissions, were unusually low. In 2015, a 24 % reduction in GHG emissions, compared with 2005 levels, was recorded for stationary installations under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), together with an estimated 12 % reduction in emissions across sectors covered under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD). Progress remains insufficient in the transport sector, both in terms of reducing GHG emissions and achieving the 10 % sectoral target on renewables for 2020.
  • Although the EU as a whole is on target for 2020, the situation observed differs across individual countries. In 2014, 27 Member States met their annual targets for GHG emissions (covering national emissions from sectors outside the EU ETS), 25 were on course to meet their energy efficiency targets and 22 were making progress towards renewable energy targets in line with their national action plans.
  • A total of 16 Member States were in a position to deliver on their national targets in all three areas in 2014. This number declined to 15 in 2015: although the same 27 countries as in 2014 appeared to reach their national GHG targets in 2015, a number of countries deviated from the course to meeting their renewable and energy efficiency targets. In 2014 (and 2013 and 2015), Malta failed to limit its GHG emissions to below its annual ESD targets, and stood behind trajectories for achieving its 2020 targets on renewable energy and energy consumption.
  • Although the EU is expected to achieve its 2020 targets, achieving more ambitious longer term objectives requires current efforts to be stepped up. Policy proposals are currently under discussion between Member States and at the European Parliament in order to achieve the EU’s 2030 objectives under the climate and energy framework and the Energy Union Framework Strategy. These include a revision of the EU ETS, new binding national targets on GHG emissions for the period from 2021 to 2030 under the Effort Sharing Regulation, and the integration of land use and forestry in the policy framework. Proposals are also expected before the end of 2016 to revise the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive.
  • Once adopted, these new policies and measures will require timely and effective actions at national level. Policy implementation and effects will also have to be regularly monitored and evaluated at both EU and national levels in a way that integrates energy and climate perspectives. This is planned, in particular, in the context of the new governance for the EU’s Energy Union, in order to ensure that these policies and measures adequately support the transition to a low-carbon and competitive EU economy.

1.1 Progress of the European Union towards its '20-20-20' climate and energy targets

Based on the analysis of data and information reported by Member States in 2015 and 2016, as well as additional estimates from the European Environment Agency (EEA), the European Union (EU) is on course to meet each of its 2020 targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. In fact, the GHG target was already surpassed in 2014 and 2015 (see Figure 1.1).

GHG emissions

In 2014, the EU achieved a reduction of GHG emissions to 23 % below 1990 levels. This reduction exceeds the 20 % reduction target set for 2020. Approximated estimates for 2015 indicate that GHG emissions slightly increased in 2015, but remained well below the 2020 target level, at 22 % below 1990 levels. This increase observed in 2015 follows an exceptionally warm year (in 2014) in almost all parts of Europe, which resulted in a markedly low demand for heating energy compared with 2013. As such, the 2014–2015 trend can be considered a recovery from the exceptional decrease in emissions recorded in 2014. Further details of this are discussed in Chapter 2.

Renewable energy

The steady deployment of renewable energy sources (RESs) in the EU’s energy mix continues. The use of renewable energy continued to increase, standing at 16.0 % of gross final energy consumption in 2014 and getting closer to the 20 % target for 2020. This 2014 RES percentage is higher than indicative levels set for that year in both the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) [1] and Member States’ national renewable energy action plans (NREAPs). In fact, approximated estimates for 2015 indicate that the use of energy from renewable sources continued to increase, standing at 16.4 % of gross final energy consumption. The 2020 target could be attained if Member States sustain the speed at which they have been developing RESs so far. However, as we approach 2020, the trajectories for meeting the national targets are becoming steeper and more costly projects will have to be developed; however, market barriers persist in several Member States. Further details of this are discussed in Chapter 4.

Energy efficiency

The EU is reducing its energy consumption. Since 2005, the EU’s primary energy consumption has been decreasing at a pace which, if sustained until 2020, would be sufficient for the EU to meet its 20 % primary energy target. Final energy consumption in 2014 was already below the target defined for 2020. For this trend to continue at EU level, several Member States must reinforce their implementation of European legislation. EU primary energy consumption decreased in 2014 and was 12 % below 2005 levels. However, this decrease can be partly explained by the warmer temperatures in 2014 than in 2013. Based upon approximated estimates for 2015, levels of primary energy consumption slightly increased again relative to the previous year, to a level 11 % below 2005. Further details of this are discussed in Chapter 6.

Figure 1.1                   EU progress towards 2020 climate and energy targets


Note:      The energy efficiency target for 2020 is defined as an absolute target, set at 20 % below the level in primary energy consumption projected for 2020 in the 2007 Energy Baseline Scenario of the European Commission. In this figure, this target is expressed as a relative change compared with 2005 levels of primary energy consumption in the EU, in order to show the required reduction in primary energy consumption over time. The year 2005 was chosen because it is used as a base year for GHG emission (in the EU ETS and under the ESD) and renewable energy targets. It also corresponds to a peak in energy consumption in the EU.

Source:  EC, 2013; EEA, 2011, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c and 2016d; EU, 2009 and 2012; European Council, 2007; Eurostat, 2016a, 2016b and 2016c.


1.2 Progress towards the European Union's mid- and long-term climate and energy objectives

Although the EU and its Member States are making good progress towards their short-term goals on climate and energy, efforts will need to be considerably increased to meet the EU’s long-term goal for 2050 of reducing Europe’s GHG emissions by 80–95 %, compared with 1990 levels.

To ensure that the EU is on a cost-effective track towards meeting this long-term objective, the European Council (i.e. the EU heads of state or government) agreed, in October 2014, on a climate and energy policy framework for the EU, and endorsed new climate and energy targets for 2030 (European Council, 2014). The framework includes:

  • a binding target of at least a 40 % reduction in domestic GHG emissions, compared with 1990 levels, with individual targets at the Member State level;
  • a target for RES consumption to be at least 27 % of final energy consumption by 2030; this target is binding at EU level, but there are no fixed targets for individual Member States;
  • an indicative target at EU level of at least a 27 % improvement in energy efficiency in 2030 compared with projections of future energy consumption (based on the European Commission’s 2007 Energy Baseline Scenario (EC, 2008)), which is equivalent to a reduction of primary energy consumption by about 20 % compared with 2005 levels. For final energy consumption, the 2030 target would be equivalent to a 12 % decrease from 2005 levels.  This target will be reviewed in 2016, with an EU level of 30 % in mind.

Progress towards these 2030 targets is not as evident as it is for 2020 targets:

  • According to Member States’ projections, a reduction of EU GHG emissions of between 26 % (on the basis of existing mitigation measures) and 29 % (accounting for planned national measures) could be achieved by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. These projected reductions fall short of the 40 % target for 2030. In the sectors covered by the Effort Sharing legislation (i.e. not under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS)), the projected reductions for 2030, estimated to be between 16 % and 19 % compared with 2005 levels, would also fall short of the necessary 30 % reduction in these sectors.
  • Maintaining the current pace of RES deployment across Europe would enable the EU to achieve RES consumption above the target of 27 % of final energy consumption in 2030. However, this may not happen without additional efforts, because a number of regulatory changes have already affected investors’ confidence in renewables, and market barriers and fragmentation still represent challenges for new entrants.
  • From 2020 onwards, the average reductions in both primary and final energy consumption necessary to reach the 2030 targets are slightly lower than those needed between 2005 and 2020 to meet the 2020 energy consumption target. Achieving the 2030 targets nevertheless requires not only the stringent implementation of energy efficiency measures, but also a rapid change in consumer behaviour.

Even if the 2030 EU targets are met, efforts would still need to be further enhanced in view of the EU’s energy and decarbonisation objectives for 2050. After 2030, GHG emissions would need to decline at a much faster pace than anticipated today in order to reach the 2050 long-term goal, and renewable energy would need to grow even faster before 2050 in order to attain the minimum levels consistent with the EU’s long-term decarbonisation objectives.


1.3 Towards more integrated governance of climate and energy policies in the European Union

The EU’s 2030 climate and energy policy framework contributes to achieving the objectives of the EU’s Energy Union Framework Strategy (EC, 2015b), which was adopted in 2015. The strategy aims to ensure that Europe moves towards an integrated, secure, affordable and climate-compatible energy system, and achieves its climate and energy goals for 2030. It is structured around five closely related and mutually reinforcing dimensions:

  • supply security;
  • internal energy market integration;
  • energy efficiency;
  • decarbonisation;
  • research and innovation.

Progress towards these objectives is monitored annually through the European Commission’s State of the Energy Union (EC, 2015a). On 30 November 2016, the European Commission also tables a legislative proposal on a new governance under the Energy Union in order to adapt planning, reporting and monitoring requirements to the new 2030 climate and energy framework (under EU legislation and the Paris Agreement [2]). It will specifically aim to streamline the existing planning, reporting and monitoring obligations of Member States and to minimise administrative burden. This streamlining effort is expected to ensure the availability of integrated and coherent national data and information on GHG emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. This includes projections, as well as anticipated and realised effects of policies and measures. Such information will, in turn, improve the robustness of the assessment of progress towards the climate and energy targets presented in this report.


1.4 Progress of Member States towards national 2020 climate and energy objectives

Not all Member States are performing well individually with respect to their national targets (see Table 1.1). However, the projected overachievements of the majority of Member States offset the slower progress projected in a few Member States. The Member States’ progress is summarised below:

  • In 2014, all of the Member States, with the exception of Malta, met their annual GHG emission targets set under the ESD [3]. Proxy estimates indicate that a similar situation also occurred in 2015. A total of 23 Member States project that they will meet their national GHG targets in 2020 with the current set of policies and measures in place. The other five Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg) will have to implement additional measures to reach targets domestically or use the flexibility mechanisms provided under the ESD. These mechanisms allow Member States to transfer annual emission allowances over time and between Member States. Further details of this are provided in Chapter 3.
  • A total of 22 Member States were making good progress towards their national renewable energy targets in 2014, but France, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal were behind the trajectories they had set in their national action plans. Furthermore, the Netherlands were also behind their indicative trajectory set in the RED. The situation is expected to have changed in 2015, with only 19 Member States remaining on track, according to proxy estimates by the EEA. Further details of this are discussed in Chapter 5.
  • All but three (Estonia, Malta and Sweden) Member States were making good progress towards indicative national targets on primary energy consumption in 2014. However, as primary consumption increased across Europe in 2015, according to EEA proxy estimates, four countries were expected to fall behind their energy efficiency targets in 2015. Further details are provided in Chapter 7.

In total, 16 Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom) were on track in 2014 to meet all three of their national climate and energy targets for 2020 (see Table 1.1). Ten of these countries need to limit only their GHG emissions or energy consumption, compared with 2005, to achieve their 2020 targets [4]. However, based on approximated estimates, not all of these 16 Member States remained on track in all three domains in 2015.

As opposed to previous years, in which no Member State underperformed in all three domains, Malta was found to be in a difficult situation in 2014, as it failed to keep its GHG emissions below its ESD target and has fallen behind trajectories for achieving its 2020 targets on renewable energy and energy consumption.

Strong links exist between energy efficiency improvements, the deployment of renewable energy and reductions in GHG emissions. However, not all of the GHG emission savings resulting from better energy efficiency and more renewable energy use contribute to Member States’ progress towards their national targets since these relate to only sectors which are not covered under the EU ETS. For example, most GHG savings resulting from the growth in the use of renewable energy take place in the power sector, which is covered under the EU ETS (EEA, 2016e). The link between the GHG emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency targets is therefore stronger at EU level, for which all emissions are considered in the 20 % reduction target, than at Member State level, for which national targets do not cover ETS emissions. Renewable and energy efficiency policies nevertheless contribute to reducing emissions in the sectors covered by the ESD, particularly the transport and building sectors. Energy efficiency improvements and the development of RESs have played roles of varying importance from one Member State to another with regard to making progress towards national ESD targets (EEA, 2015).

 Table 1‑1        Progress of Member States towards 2020 climate and energy targets

Note:      The percentage values in this table represent the difference between the parameter considered and the relevant target or indicative target. A positive value indicates that a target is met. Further methodological details on how progress is measured are provided in Annexes 1, 2 and 3.

Source:  National information reported by Member States to the EEA, the European Commission and Eurostat. See Chapters 3, 5 and 7 for further details, as well as Annexes 1, 2 and 3 for information on data and methodology.

End notes

[1]   The indicative RED targets are set as an average for two consecutive years. Accordingly, the average EU-wide share of energy from renewable sources in 2013 and 2014 must equal or exceed 12.1 %.

[2]   Adopted by 195 countries at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, the Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. Governments agreed in particular to track progress towards the long-term goal through a robust transparency and accountability system.

[3]   These differentiated targets were set under the ESD. The ESD covers almost 60 % of total GHG emissions at EU level.

[4]   Under the ESD, the national GHG emission targets for 2020 were set on the basis of Member States’ relative wealth (measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita). Less wealthy countries are allowed emission increases in these sectors because their relatively higher economic growth is likely to be accompanied by higher emissions. This is particularly the case for Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Furthermore, seven Member States of the same group of countries performing well in all three policy objectives (Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Slovenia) have also voluntarily adopted positive limits (i.e. an increase within a specified constraint) on primary energy consumption for 2020.


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