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Europe leading the way in global climate action [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Gregor Erbach,

EU climate and energy policies have performed well: carbon emissions have fallen significantly while the economy has continued to grow. Europe is on track to meet or even exceed its 2020 climate and energy targets. Having been key actors in concluding the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the EU and its Member States are now taking further steps to fulfil their pledges made ahead of the Paris conference.

EU climate policies: ambitions and achievements

climate change word cloud on blackboard

© Marek / Fotolia

The EU has pursued climate policies since the 1990s, starting with energy efficiency labelling and standards. These policies were strengthened after the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, which commits developed countries to reducing their carbon emissions. In 2005, the EU introduced the Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world’s first and biggest carbon market. Furthermore, it set concrete targets for 2020: a 20 % reduction of carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels, a 20 % share of renewable energy sources and a 20 % improvement in energy efficiency. To achieve them, the EU adopted legislation in numerous areas, such as emissions trading, renewable energy sources, energy efficiency targets and energy labels and standards, and introduced the rule that at least 20 % of its budget would be dedicated to climate action, including research. Thanks to these measures, the EU has reduced its carbon emissions by 23 % since 1990, while its economy has grown by 46 %.

While the EU is fully on track to meeting or exceeding its targets for 2020, other regions have been less effective. Several countries have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol or weakened their climate policies. At the same time, emissions in many developing countries have grown rapidly, driven by strong economic growth.

The Paris Agreement: a global framework for climate action

After many years of difficult negotiations, in 2015 a new agreement on climate change was concluded at the 21st UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris. The Paris Agreement was the first at which all countries, including developing ones, made commitments. The EU, together with the ‘high ambition coalition’ of 35 countries, played a leading role in raising the level of the goals set in the agreement. Ahead of COP21, the EU submitted its pledge, a 40 % reduction of EU carbon emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

Putting the Paris Agreement into action

The EU is currently in the process of a complete overhaul of its climate and energy policy to achieve its 40 % emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement, as well as its 2030 targets of a 27 % share of renewables and an improvement in energy efficiency of at least 27 %. The Commission has made a number of legislative proposals to pave the way for the transition towards a low-carbon economy, on topics such as reforming the ETS, effort sharing, land use and forestry, energy efficiency, buildings and the electricity market. The Commission’s proposals are now being discussed and amended by the European Parliament and Member States.

The case for raising the level of ambition

The UN Environment Programme’s latest emissions gap report finds that the current pledges are not sufficient to limit the global temperature rise to the agreed 20C, let alone to 1.5oC. The Paris Agreement includes a mechanism for reviewing the pledges every five years, starting in 2018. The European Parliament has repeatedly called for greater ambition, such as a 40 % improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. In the context of the ETS reform, the European Parliament has urged more emission allowances to be removed from the market, the inclusion of the shipping and aviation sectors, and called for periodic reviews of the level of ambition in line with the five-yearly review cycle of the Paris Agreement.


This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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