Europe can reach a low emissions future


The European Environment Agency in Copenhagen has identified pathways to achieve Europe's contribution to a global climate change target.


Global and European action is needed to meet the challenge of ensuring that global temperatures will never rise more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This commitment - to take the lead towards a "low emissions future" - was agreed by all countries in the European Union. Serious consequences of climate change already include more frequent and more costly floods, droughts and other extreme weather events that are affecting water resources, ecosystems, agriculture and human health.

Europe cannot achieve this goal alone. The report has looked at a contribution that would require a fall in EU greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030. The report projects substantial changes in the EU energy sector by 2030. The sector is currently responsible for 80 % of all EU greenhouse gas emissions.

More than half of the reductions required in the EU would be based on achievable technologies inside Europe, meaning -

  • more efficient electricity and heat generation and use of energy in households, industry, services/agriculture and transport
  • a switch to low-carbon fuels - and
  • increases in renewable energy, mainly from wind and biomass.

The remaining reductions would be achieved by international emissions trading involving the rest of the world.

These are the key findings revealed in a new report launched by the European Environment Agency. The report sets out a number of scenarios assessing what changes would be needed to ensure a low global emissions future at the lowest cost.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA, says - "Climate change is at the top of the international agenda and many people are now aware of the Kyoto Protocol. However, the Protocol is only a first step and the discussions have started as to what we do after 2012 to ensure that we do not exceed the two degree limit. In Europe, we know that we cannot do it alone - but our political leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to global leadership on this issue and the Agency has now mapped out possible pathways to delivering on this political commitment.

"Europe needs to remove environmentally harmful subsidies on energy, improve its energy efficiency and increase its share of renewable energy. It also needs to help develop an efficient global emissions trading market.

"Europeans need to transfer clean technology to developing countries and invest in more research and development in clean technology. All these actions are required, if we want to meet our political commitment."


The EEA scenario study

Modest total greenhouse gas emission reductions since 1990, were the result of a combination of one-off structural changes and specific policies and measures. Since 2000, CO2 emissions in the 15 pre-2004 EU Member States (EU15) have been rising. On present policies, this rise will continue after 2010 with a projected overall 14% rise above 1990 levels by 2030.

Various climate action scenarios analysed by EEA, would see EU greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 40% by 2030. More than half of these reductions would be based on achievable technologies within Europe, while the remaining reductions would be achieved by international emission trading abroad in an effective global emission trading market.

The EEA report underlines that an alternative energy system, with energy-related domestic CO2 emissions in 2030 that are 11% below 1990, is within reach - if the EU:

  • Improves energy efficiency - particularly in households, services and industry. These are expected to account for almost half of the emission reduction in 2010. Towards 2030, their contribution will decrease to about one third.
  • Changes the way it generates energy. Towards 2030, more than 70% of the CO2 emissions reductions are expected to be achieved in the power generation sector, due to a shift to low-carbon or non-carbon fuels. The use of solid fuels is expected to decline substantially and of natural gas to increase rapidly. Combined heat and power will increase its share of electricity production.
  • Removes environmentally harmful subsidies to fossil fuels. Subsidies to energy in the EU-15 were €29 billion in 2001 - with 73 % oriented towards the support of fossil fuels.
  • Invests instead in renewable energy sources and sets targets for renewables. In particular, wind power and biomass use are expected to increase their share in primary energy sources.
  • Explores new technologies for carbon capture and storage, which can serve as a transition technology towards a low-carbon energy system.
  • Increases research and development in clean technology - for example in hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Raises awareness among the European public - as well as European business - on the contribution they can make in their lives to reduce the energy intensity of the economy.

A scenario with larger increases in renewable energy (almost 40% of electricity generation), shows a higher reduction in energy-related domestic CO2 emissions in 2030, of about 21% below 1990.

Under all scenarios explored by the EEA, the transport sector still remains a difficult area in which to reduce emissions.

CO2 emissions from transport are projected to continue to grow under all scenarios (to 25-28% above the 1990 level by 2030), because of the steady increase in passenger and freight demand.

The EEA also explored the costs involved in converting Europe to a low-carbon energy system.

Many early initiatives in energy efficiency in the household and service sectors may have low or even negative costs. However, significant moves away from fossil fuels could represent an increased cost of about 0.6% of GDP by 2030.

However, there is increased evidence that the benefits of limiting global temperature increase to 2°C in terms of avoiding damage from climate change throughout the world, outweigh the costs of measures needed to reduce emissions. Furthermore, a European low-carbon energy system is expected to result in additional ancillary environmental benefits, such as -

  • a reduction of emissions of air pollutants
  • enhanced security of supply - and
  • potential beneficial effects for employment.

There is a need for further analysis of the macro-economic and sectoral costs and of costs of inaction.

Substantial low-cost emission reductions are also projected for nitrous oxide and methane emissions from industry, waste management and agriculture.

EEA will publish further details of the underlying scenario assumptions and results during 2005.


Climate change targets

The Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in February 2005, controls industrialised countries' emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20) - plus three fluorinated industrial gases -

  • hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • perfluorocarbons (PFCs) - and
  • sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the 15 Member States of the EU (before 2004) agreed to reduce emissions by 8 % from base year levels by 2008–12 and different emission limitations or reduction targets for each Member State - the ‘burden-sharing' agreement.

The new Member States (except Cyprus and Malta) which joined the EU in 2004, have their own reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol - ranging from 6 to 8 % from their base year levels. All ratifying industrialised countries taken together, are committed to an average reduction of 2.8 % by 2008–12 (from the 1990 level). These countries represent about 64 % of total emissions from industrialised countries - since the US and Australia have not ratified.

To minimise adverse effects, the EU, in the sixth environment action programme (2002), defined an indicative long-term global temperature target of not more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Temperature around the world is already about a third of the way to this target. The EU Environment Council meetings of 20 December 2004 and 11 March 2005 both reaffirmed the temperature target.

The share of EU25 emissions in global emissions is expected to be reduced to less than 10% by 2050, while the share of emissions from other - including developing - countries will increase. Thus further action to reduce emissions is needed by all countries - both industrialised and developing - on the basis of the UN Framework Convention's principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Furthermore, the EU Environment Council of 11 March 2005 concluded that - 'the EU looks forward to exploring, with other parties, possible strategies for achieving necessary emission reductions and believes that, in this context, reduction pathways by the group of developed countries in the order of 15–30 % by 2020 and 60–80 % by 2050, compared with the baseline envisaged in the Kyoto Protocol, should be considered'.

The EEA report analysed a global emission decrease to 15 % below the 1990 level by 2050 - which is within the range mentioned by the Environment Council. However, further research is needed to better quantify the required global emission reductions. The EEA report further assumed EU emission reduction targets of 20 % below the 1990 level by 2020, 40 % below by 2030 and 65 % by 2050. These assumed targets are within the ranges mentioned by the EU Environment Council.

Link to EEA report -

For information on EU future action on climate change see:



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