Ask EP By / March 26, 2019

What is the European Union doing about climate change?

The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens asking what the European Union (EU) is doing about climate change.

© josephsjacobs / Fotolia

The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens asking what the European Union (EU) is doing about climate change.

The European Union – a world leader on climate action

Planet with grass growing on land masses isolated on white background. Abstract sustainability concept 3D illustration
© josephsjacobs / Fotolia

A 2050 low carbon objective, adopted by the European Council in 2009, seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 % by 2050, compared with 1990 levels, as part of a global effort to limit temperature increases to below 2°C. In addition, a 2030 climate and energy framework, adopted by the European Council in 2014, sets three targets to be met by 2030:

  • at least 40 % cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 1990 levels;
  • a minimum 27 % share for renewables in the energy mix;
  • and an improvement in energy efficiency of at least 27 %.

Mind the gap

Meanwhile, the 2015 Paris Agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Today, global temperature is 0.9°C above pre-industrial levels. A 2018 report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change highlighted the need for urgent action to meet these goals, while a 2018 UN Environment emissions gap report indicated that current national efforts worldwide would lead to an estimated 3.2°C warming by 2100.

In 2018, the European Commission published a 2050 long-term strategy presenting eight scenarios for a transition to a low-carbon economy, in line with the Paris Agreement objective.

In a resolution of 14 March 2019, the European Parliament called for net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, an enhancement of national efforts worldwide by 2020 and a more ambitious EU target of a 55 % emission reduction by 2030.

What the EU can do

Under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, EU environmental policy aims at providing ‘a high level of protection’.

The European Union is competent to act in most areas of environment and climate policy, although its powers are rather limited on certain topics (such as tax, land use and energy mix). The main responsibility for implementation lies with EU countries, and in some cases with regional and local authorities.

What the EU has been doing

As regards funding, 20 % of the EU budget is to be spent on climate-related objectives. This share is expected to rise in the future.

As regards climate change mitigation, most of the EU regulatory framework up to 2030 was set in 2018-2019. Parliament and Council have adopted new rules and 2030 emission targets for specific sectors, strengthening and extending previous targets. For example:

  • emissions from energy and industry covered under the EU emissions trading system (ETS) must be reduced by 43 % by 2030;
  • emissions from transport, buildings and agriculture must be reduced by 30 % by 2030;
  • new CO2 standards for trucks and buses and for cars and vans are being set.

As regards climate change adaptation, EU policy is defined in a 2013 adaptation strategy, designed to encourage EU countries to adopt comprehensive policies; to promote adaptation in key vulnerable sectors (such as agriculture, fisheries and cohesion policy); and to develop knowledge about adaptation to enable better informed decision-making. In 2018, 25 EU countries had developed a national adaptation strategy.

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