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Page Last modified 03 Jun 2016
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Essential for the generation of industrial, commercial and societal wealth, energy also provides personal comfort and mobility. But its production and consumption place considerable pressures on the environment: greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, land use, waste generation and oil spills. These pressures contribute to climate change, damage natural ecosystems and the man-made environment, and have adverse effects on human health.

Many human activities call for the combustion of fossil fuels; this increases atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations resulting in climate change, and also raises average global temperatures. Globally, the demand for energy is growing, thereby reinforcing the trend of rising CO2 emissions.

Most countries rely on fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) to satisfy their energy demand. Burning these fuels releases heat that can be converted to energy. In the process, the carbon in the fuel reacts with oxygen, producing CO2 that is released to the atmosphere. Air pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates) are also released, with resulting impacts on air quality. However, thanks to technical measures and improvements in power and heat generation plants, such emissions have declined over the past decades.

The peak of European energy consumption occurred in 2006; 2010 energy consumption was nearly 4% lower. Part of this decrease may be explained by the economic crisis, although a slight decoupling of economic activity from energy consumption also contributed.

Fossil fuels still dominate the fuel mix: about 77 % of the energy needs of the average European are met by oil, gas and coal. Nuclear power provides 14 %, with the remaining 9 % coming from renewable energy sources. However, renewable energy is increasing rapidly; in 2010, solar photovoltaics was the biggest source of new installed capacity, with new gas and wind coming second and third respectively. Nuclear power had much more capacity decommissioned than installed.

The average European uses 27 megawatt-hours (MWh) annually, including all domestic, industrial and transport sources. This figure varies widely between countries, as do the associated CO2 emissions, which depend strongly on the penetration of renewable and nuclear energy. Transport, the fastest-growing energy-using sector since 1990, is now the largest consumer of energy.

EU Policy

Energy is increasingly a policy priority; it constitutes one of the five main development areas that the Europe 2020 strategy targets in its aim for:

  • 20% of Europe’s energy consumption to come from renewable energy
  • A 20% increase in energy efficiency

Alongside the specific targets of the 2020 energy strategy, additional interest areas are tackled by various policies, summarised on the European Commission website. The policies include:

  • Improving security of supply;
  • ensuring the competitiveness of the European economy and the availability of affordable energy;
  • encouraging the development of a competitive internal market for energy;
  • setting minimum levels of energy taxation.

EEA activities

One of the EEA’s key activities in the field of energy is monitoring the integration of environmental considerations into the energy sector. A set of energy and environment indicators is updated and published annually. The EEA also publishes assessments of the expected environmental benefits and pressures from different shares of renewable energy.

The energy–environment indicators address six policy questions:

  • Is the use and production of energy having a decreasing impact on the environment?
  • Is energy use decreasing?
  • How rapidly is energy efficiency increasing?
  • Are less polluting fuels superseding more damaging fuels?
  • How rapidly are renewable energy technologies being implemented?
  • Are environmental costs being better incorporated into the pricing system?

The indicators also play an important role in:

  • monitoring the EU Sustainable Development Strategy;
  • preparing the EU greenhouse gas inventory report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);
  • reporting on greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe under the Kyoto Protocol.


The EEA also carries out assessments of expected environmental benefits and pressures resulting from an increasing share of renewable energy as a proportion of total energy production. This includes:

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