What the EU is doing
A variety of climate-related initiatives have been implemented at EU and national levels since the early 1990s. The European Commission launched the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) in 2000, working with industry, environmental organisations and other stakeholders to identify cost-effective measures to reduce emissions.
A cornerstone of EU climate change policies is the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) launched in 2005. EU governments have set limits on how much CO2 some 10,500 power plants and energy-intensive factories are allowed to emit each year, accounting for almost half of the EU's total CO2 emissions.
The ETS gives a financial incentive to reduce emissions by establishing a market-based trading system. Plants that emit less CO2 than their limits can sell their unused emission quotas to other companies that have emissions higher than their allowances.
Companies that exceed their emission limits and do not cover them with emission rights bought from others have to pay hefty penalties. The ETS makes sure that emissions are cut where it is cheapest, and lowers the overall costs of reducing emissions.
Other ECCP measures include improving the fuel efficiency of cars and the energy efficiency of buildings (better insulation can reduce heating costs by 90%); increasing the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, sun, tidal power, biomass (organic material such as wood, mill residues, plants or animal droppings) and geothermal power (heat from hot springs or volcanoes); and reducing methane emissions from landfills.
A second phase of the ECCP was launched in October 2005. The focus is on strengthening the EU ETS by tackling emissions from aviation and road transport, developing carbon capture and storage technology and funding measures to adapt to climate change. Proposals to include airlines in the EU ETS and reduce CO2 emissions from new cars have now been agreed.
European leaders adopted a climate and energy package in 2008, with a series of proposals for concrete actions and a set of ambitious targets.
Europe is now committed to cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, a commitment that will rise to 30% if other industrialised countries agree to do the same.
To achieve this level of reduction, other targets have been set – to boost energy efficiency by 20% by 2020, to increase the share of renewable energy in energy consumption to an average of 20% by 2020 across the EU, and to derive 10% of transport fuels from biofuels by 2020.
The package strengthens the ETS to cover all major industrial emitters and introduces more auctioning. In sectors not covered by the ETS – such as buildings, transport, agriculture and waste – emissions are to be reduced emissions by 10% below 2005 levels by 2020.
Other measures boost carbon capture and storage technologies, cut CO2 from cars and will introduce tighter fuel quality standards.
Leading the international effort
The EU is striving to lead international negotiations to bring climate change under control before it is too late. That means militating for a new agreement that is ambitious enough to match the severity of the climate challenge we face, and putting the world on track to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions before 2020, and then cutting them by at least half of their 1990 levels by 2050.
The aim is to build a sustainable, low-carbon energy system, and get it in place as soon as possible. This means concentrating on increasing energy efficiency, which will substantially reduce global emissions at zero or even negative cost, accelerating the development and deployment of new, clean energy technologies, and ensuring that the necessary funding mechanisms are in place.
Over half of the investment required will be in developing countries, so the EU is looking to create innovative international sources of finance based on countries' emission levels and their ability to pay.
The role of the European Commission
Combating climate change is a key priority for the European Commission.
The Commission proposes strategy and legislation for adoption across the continent. Legislation is agreed together with the European Parliament, which is made up of 785 directly elected deputies from all 27 EU Member States, and the Council of Ministers, representing all EU governments.
The Commission also ensures that adopted measures are put into practice by the Member States, and represents the EU in international negotiations, keeping the EU at the forefront of international efforts to combat climate change.
Communication is also important, and the Commission runs pan-European awareness raising campaigns – You Control Climate Change! and Climate Action – to spread the message about the vital contribution that citizens can make to combating climate change. Other communication initiatives include producing and disseminating video clips, publications and a diary for schools, hosting conferences, organising exhibitions, and coordinating a network of climate ambassadors.
Read more about EU global actions