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EU greenhouse gas emissions and targets

Less than 10% of the greenhouse gases emitted worldwide each year come from within the European Union. The EU's share of global emissions is falling as Europe reduces its own emissions and as those from other parts of the world, especially the major emerging economies, continue to grow.


Due to measures being taken at European level as well by Member States at national level, the EU is well on track towards meeting its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and for 2020. By reducing emissions since 1990 while expanding its economy, the EU has successfully shown that economic growth and emission cuts are not contradictory. See the latest EU greenhouse gas inventory.

EU-15 over-achieves first Kyoto target

The 15 countries which were EU Member States when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997 (the 'EU-15') committed to reduce their collective emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases in the Protocol's first period (2008-2012) to 8% below the level in their various base years (1990 in most cases).

Cooling Towers © iStockphoto

In 2012, EU-15 emissions stood 15.1% below their base year level. Based on figures for 2012 by the European Environment Agency, EU-15 emissions averaged 11.8% below base-year levels during the 2008-2012 period. This means the EU-15 over-achieved its first Kyoto target by a wide margin.

The 8% collective reduction commitment has been translated into national emission reduction or limitation targetspdf(22 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  for each of the EU-15 Member States under what is known as the "burden sharing" agreement. These national targets range from an emissions reduction of 28% for Luxembourg to an increase of 27% for Portugal. The targets are legally binding under EU law.

First Kyoto period targets for other Member States

Of the 13 countries which have joined the EU since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, all except Cyprus and Malta have individual emission reduction commitments under the first period of the Protocol. Hungary and Poland have commitments to reduce emissions of the basket of six gases by 6% in the 2008-2012 period compared to their base year or period. Croatia has a 5% reduction commitment from 1990 levels. The other eight Member States have commitments to reduce by 8% against various base years.

All 11 countries with commitments are on course to meet or over-achieve their first Kyoto period targets.

Unilateral 2020 target

For 2020, the EU has made a unilateral commitment to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from its 28 Member States by 20% compared to 1990 levels.

It has offered to increase this reduction to 30% if other major economies agree to undertake their fair share of a global emissions reduction effort. The European Commission has published a Communication analysing the options for moving beyond a 20% reduction by 2020 and assessing the risk of 'carbon leakage'.

The 20% reduction commitment is enshrined in the 'climate and energy package' of binding legislation. It is also one of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The EU is making good progress towards meeting this target.

While EU GDP grew by 45% between 1990 and 2012, total greenhouse gas emissions from today's 28 Member States - including emissions from international aviation, which are covered by the EU's unilateral commitment - were 19.2% below the 1990 level in 2012. Member States' latest projections show that total emissions in 2020, including international aviation, will be 22,2% below the 1990 level.

To reach the 2020 reduction targets, emission cuts will be needed not only in sectors covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) but also in the areas of the economy that are outside the EU ETS, such as buildings, agriculture, waste management and transport (except aviation). Under the 'Effort Sharing Decision' all Member States have taken on binding greenhouse gas emission targets covering the non-ETS sectors for each year of the 2013–2020 period.

Each Member State's progress towards meeting its national emission targets, as well as the renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, is assessed every spring as part of the so-called European Semester. The Commission makes country-specific recommendations as appropriate.

Kyoto second period target

The EU has also committed to reduce its emissions by 20% under the Kyoto Protocol's second period, which runs from 2013 to 2020. This commitment differs in several important respects from the EU's unilateral 2020 commitment:

  • The Kyoto commitment is measured against base years, not 1990;
  • It requires the EU to keep its emissions at an average of 20% below base-year levels over the whole period, not only in 2020;
  • It differs in scope (for instance, it does not cover emissions from international aviation since these are outside the scope of the Protocol, but does cover emissions and their removals from land use, land use change and forestry, which the unilateral commitment does not).
  • The EU will meet its Kyoto commitment jointly with Iceland.