Around 11% 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.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, the 15 countries which were EU Member States when the Protocol was agreed in 1997 (the "EU-15") have committed to reduce their collective emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases in the 2008-2012 period to 8% below the 1990 level.
In 2011, the latest year for which comprehensive data are available, EU-15 emissions stood 14.9% below their level in Member States' chosen base years (1990 in most cases). This means the EU-15 is on course to over-achieve its Kyoto target. This means the EU-15 is on course to over-achieve its reduction target for the first Kyoto commitment period.
The 8% collective reduction commitment has been translated into national emission reduction or limitation targets 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.
Of the 12 countries which have joined the EU since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, all except Cyprus and Malta have individual emission reduction commitments under 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; the other eight Member States have commitments to reduce by 8% against various base years.
Croatia, which is set to join the EU on 1 July 2013, has an emission reduction target of 5% compared to 1990 levels.
In 2011, all of these countries except Slovenia were over-achieving their Kyoto target by wide margins.
For 2020, the EU has made a unilateral commitment to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from its 27 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 has also committed to reduce its emissions by 20% under the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period, which runs from 2013 to 2020.
However, the Kyoto commitment differs in several important respects from the unilateral commitment:
The EU is making good progress towards delivering on these commitments. In 2011, combined greenhouse gas emissions from all 27 Member States were 18.4% below the 1990 level, while over the same period the EU economy (measured by Gross Domestic Product) grew by over 40%. Taking into account international aviation, which is covered by the climate and energy package, the emission reduction is slightly lower at 17%.
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.