Europe 2020 indicators - climate change and energy - Statistics Explained

Europe 2020 indicators - climate change and energy

Data extracted in June 2018.

Planned article update: September 2019.


In 2016, EU GHG emissions, including emissions from international aviation and indirect CO2 emissions, were down by 22.4 % compared with 1990 levels. The EU is thus expected to exceed its Europe 2020 target of reducing GHG emissions by 20 % by 2020.

Greenhouse gas emissions, EU-28, 1990–2016
(Index 1990=100)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_30)

This article is part of a set of statistical articles on the Europe 2020 strategy. It provides recent statistics on climate change and energy in the European Union (EU).

Full article

General overview

The Europe 2020 strategy is the EU’s agenda for growth and jobs for the current decade. It emphasises smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as a way to strengthen the EU economy and prepare it for the challenges of the next decade.

Climate change and energy are closely interlinked, due to the fact that the consumption of fossil fuels contributes substantially to global warming. With unchecked climate change threatening to erode the foundations of modern society, in 2009, the EU committed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to contribute to limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. This commitment was reinforced and strengthened in 2015 by the Paris Agreement, which calls on the international community to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Through its climate change and energy targets the Europe 2020 strategy aims to shift the EU towards a low-carbon economy based on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Europe 2020 strategy targets on climate change and energy

Also known as the ‘20-20-20’ targets, the Europe 2020 strategy's three climate and energy targets are interrelated and mutually support one another [1]:

  • a 20 % reduction in GHG emissions compared with 1990 levels;
  • a 20 % share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption; and
  • a 20 % cut in energy consumption compared to a 2020 business-as-usual projection.

In 2014, the European Council agreed on a post-2020 climate and energy framework. The 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework includes three targets for 2030: at least a 40 % cut in GHG emissions (from 1990 levels), at least 32 % share for renewable energy and at least a 32.5 % improvement in energy efficiency (compared to a projected business-as-usual scenario for 2030). In June 2018, an inter-institutional political agreement increased the ambition of the latter two targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency to the values stated above.

With the Clean Energy for All Europeans legislative package of November 2016, the European Commission tabled a comprehensive set of legislative proposals and measures to further develop climate and energy policy after 2020.

Key messages

  • In 2016, EU GHG emissions, including emissions from international aviation and indirect CO2 emissions, were down by 22.4 % compared with 1990 levels. The EU is thus expected to exceed its Europe 2020 target of reducing GHG emissions by 20 % by 2020.
  • All main sectors, except fuel combustion in transport and international aviation, contributed to the reductions between 1990 and 2016. In 2016, transport emissions rose for the third consecutive year, coinciding with a return of stronger economic growth.
  • Renewable energy continues to be on the rise in the EU; in 2016 it provided 17.0 % of gross final energy consumption, up from 9.0 % in 2005.
  • Solid, liquid and gaseous biofuels still provide the largest share of total renewable energy in the EU and are used heavily in heating as well as in electricity generation and transport. For transport, renewable energy provided 7.1 % of all energy used in 2016, up from 1.8 % in 2005.
  • The EU has made substantial progress towards its energy efficiency objective of 20 % savings by 2020 — in 2016, the EU consumed 170.6 Mtoe (10 %) less primary energy than in 2005 and 310.3 Mtoe (16.7 %) less than projections of 2020 consumption made in 2007.
  • To meet its target, the EU must reduce primary energy production by an additional 3.9 % over the four years from 2016 to 2020. Even though the 2020 target for final energy consumption was reached temporarily in 2015, a subsequent rise in consumption in 2016 means an additional 2.0 % fall is required by 2020.
  • The EU still relies heavily on energy imports from non-EU countries, which provided 53.6 % of all energy consumed in 2016. The main supplier of energy to the EU in 2016 continued to be Russia, which supplied 40.2 % of gas, 34.6 % of petroleum products and 30.2 % of solid fuels imports.
Table 1: Indicators presented in this article
Source: Eurostat online data codes: (t2020_30), (env_air_gge), (t2020_35), (t2020_31), (nrg_107a), (t2020_33), (t2020_34), (nrg_100a), (sdg_07_50), (nrg_122a), (nrg_123a), (nrg_124a) and International Energy Agency

The EU is on track to achieving its GHG emission reduction target for 2020

Reducing GHG emissions is a central objective of the Europe 2020 strategy. The EU as a whole aims to reduce emissions by 20 % compared with 1990 levels (including international aviation and indirect CO2 emissions). The main policy instruments to achieve this target are the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD). The EU ETS sets a single EU-wide cap for more than 11 000 power stations and industrial plants, as well as the emissions from flights within the European Economic Area. It allows these economic actors to trade emission allowances among themselves. The cap shrinks each year to reach an emissions reduction of 21 % by 2020 compared with 2005.

The ESD sets a binding GHG emissions target for each Member State for sectors not included in the EU ETS. Member States’ targets for the ESD sectors (such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste) vary from a 20 % reduction to a 20 % increase in emissions by 2020, reflecting differences in relative wealth. Less wealthy economies are allowed to increase their emissions to accommodate higher economic growth. However, as their targets still limit emissions compared with business-as-usual scenarios projected at the time of decision-making, all Member States are committed to making reductions. By 2020, the legislation requires that the national targets will collectively deliver a reduction of at least 10 % in total EU emissions from the non-EU ETS sectors compared with 2005 levels.

Together, the EU ETS and the ESD will reduce overall emissions to 14 % below 2005 levels by 2020. This translates to a 20 % cut below 1990 levels. In addition to these two overarching instruments, the EU has implemented an array of policy tools to address emissions from certain sectors and activities.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions, EU-28, 1990–2016
(Index 1990=100)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_30)

By 2016, the EU as a whole hat cut anthropogenic GHG emissions by 22.4 % compared to 1990 levels (see Figure 1). A large portion of this reduction occurred during the 1990s. Between 1990 and 1994 a significant drop of 6.8 % occurred, mostly due to structural shifts in the economy, modernisation in the industry sector and a shift from coal to gas. Despite rising energy consumption, the period between 1998 and 2007 saw emissions stabilise at around 92–94 % of 1990 levels. This was the result of reductions in landfilling and improved waste management, a decline in livestock numbers, a decrease in the use of nitrogenous fertiliser and a gradual shift from more carbon-intensive fuels to renewable energy and natural gas [2].

By far, the sharpest single-year decline in GHG emissions since the early 1990s occurred between 2008 and 2009 (– 7.2 %). During this time the economic crisis reduced industrial production, transport volumes and energy demand. The following years saw slow recovery in many parts of Europe.

The further decline in GHG emissions observed between 2010 and 2014 can be attributed to three main factors: improvement in the energy intensity of the EU economy, rapid development of renewable energy sources and the aftermath of the economic slowdown [3]. The subsequent slight increase in emissions between 2014 and 2015 was due primarily to particularly harsh winter conditions and a corresponding increase in heat demand. The most recent emission reduction by 0.4 percentage points (or 19.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) between 2015 and 2016 was accompanied by a 2.0 % increase in GDP. This slight decrease was due primarily to fuel switching from coal to gas in the power sector in select countries and was offset to some extent by an increase in emissions from road transport, both passenger and freight[4].

Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions per capita, by country, 2005 and 2016
(tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: European Environment Agency (online data code: (sdg_13_10))

Dividing emission figures by the total population provides a way of comparing countries’ GHG emissions on a more equal footing. Figure 2 shows Member States’ overall per capita GHG emissions for the years 2005 and 2016. Luxembourg continued to emit the most per capita in the EU in 2016. This can be partly attributed to a considerable number of commuters from neighbouring countries fuelling their cars on Luxembourgish territory, as well as road freight transit and fuel tourism [5]. In contrast, per capita emissions were lowest in some eastern and southern European countries as well as in Sweden.

Between 2005 and 2016, Luxembourg showed the highest reduction in per capita emissions. United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Denmark and Belgium also showed large cuts. In contrast, per capita emissions rose in four Member States over the same period (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland) and remained constant in Bulgaria.

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions and projections, 1990–2050
(million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: European Environment Agency

Looking towards 2020, GHG emission projections based on Member States’ existing policy measures suggest the EU is on track to surpass its 2020 target. However, according to Member States’ projections, summarised and gap-filled by the European Environment Agency (EEA), existing and planned measures are not enough to put the EU on track to meet its target for the next decade to reduce GHG emissions by 40 % by 2030 (see Figure 3) [6]. For this reason, the EU is introducing new mitigation policies for the period after 2020, including reforms to the EU ETS, a new Effort Sharing Regulation, which sets binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for Member States for the period 2021 to 2030 and a new Governance Regulation adopted as the main instrument to achieve the objectives set forth by the Energy Union Strategy. Moreover, new regulation will implement the EU's Paris Agreement commitment on emissions from land-use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF).

All sectors except transport have lowered emissions since 1990

Figure 4: Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, EU-28, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2016
(million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: European Environment Agency, Eurostat online data code (env_air_gge)

Figure 4 shows to what extent each sector has contributed to the EU’s total GHG emissions. All sectors except fuel combustion in transport and international aviation contributed to the overall GHG emission reductions from 1990 to 2016.

In absolute terms, energy industries made the largest emissions cut with a reduction of 483 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the period (29 %). Nevertheless, energy is still the sector responsible for the largest share of total emissions (26.9 % in 2016). The second largest absolute reduction was achieved in the manufacturing industries and construction and amounted to 367 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which translates to a 44 % decline between 1990 and 2015.

By contrast, transport emissions were 18 % higher in 2016 than in 1990. Moreover, fuel combustion in transport accounted for 21.0 % of total EU emissions in 2016, making it the second largest source after the energy industries. However, transport emissions were even higher in 2007, where they peaked at 993 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent before falling by 10.7 % by 2013, to reach their lowest point in 16 years. However, in 2016 transport emissions rose for the third consecutive year to 5.1 % above 2013 levels, coinciding with a return of stronger economic growth and low oil prices. Finally, emissions from international aviation more than doubled between 1990 and 2016, increasing from 69 to 148 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

GHG emissions under the in Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) have fallen since 2005

Figure 5: Greenhouse gas emissions in Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) sectors, by country, 2016
(% change since ESD base year)
Source: European Environment Agency, Eurostat online data code: (t2020_35)

Figure 5 shows Member States’ Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) emissions (total emissions excluding those covered by the EU ETS) between 2005 and 2016, as well as their 2020 ESD targets. Twenty-two countries have reduced their emissions compared to the 2005 base-year and 18 are on track to reach their 2020 national targets [7]. Emissions increased in six countries. Malta has not met its annual ESD targets for each of the three years 2013 to 2015 and has relied on flexibility mechanisms to comply with its legal obligations. Preliminary figures show that Malta, Belgium, Finland and Ireland may not meet their ESD targets for 2016 [8].

The overall positive trend in ESD emissions in the EU can be linked mainly to the building sector and energy efficiency improvements as well as a less carbon-intensive fuel mix for space heating. Furthermore, despite harsher winters in recent years, overall milder winter temperatures over the past decade and a half are partly responsible for falling heating demand compared to the 1990s. Temporary reductions in transport emissions as a result of the economic slowdown between 2007 and 2013 also contributed to the decrease [9].

Global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion and mean surface temperature continue to rise

Figure 6: Global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2015
(million tonnes of CO2)
Source: International Energy Agency (IEA)

Despite progress in the EU, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion rose by 57.5 % between 1990 and 2015, as shown in Figure 6. Most of the increase took place in emerging economies. Emissions growth, both in relative and absolute terms, was strongest in China. Between 1990 and 2015, China's annual CO2 emissions more than tripled and the country overtook the United States to become the world’s largest emitter. At the same time, China's per capita emissions from fuel combustion reached 6.6 tonnes of CO2, outpacing the EU level of 6.3 tonnes [10].

Although less important in absolute terms, emissions in the rest of Asia and the rest of the world also grew significantly in relative terms between 1990 and 2015 (221.4 % and 76.2 % respectively). As a result of these trends, the EU’s share in global CO2 emissions has shrunk considerably, from almost a fifth in 1990 to just under a tenth in 2015.

Figure 7: CO2 emissions from fuel combustion per unit of GDP, by country, 1990 and 2015
(kg of CO2 per USD (2005 prices))
Source: International Energy Agency (IEA)

While worldwide emissions grew considerably between 1990 and 2015, emissions intensity of GDP (measured as CO2 emissions from fuel combustion per unit of GDP) has decreased by 31 % globally in the same timeframe. As with absolute emissions, the emissions intensity of GDP varies country-to-country but has decreased in all but three of the countries analysed here (Brazil, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia). The largest decrease was in China, which dropped by 57 % from 1.15 kilograms (kg) of CO2 to 0.49 kg per unit of GDP. However, as indicated by the considerable rise in China’s overall emissions, this reduction is primarily due to unprecedented economic growth over the past few decades and cannot be explained by a shift towards a low-carbon economy. In the EU, emissions intensity of GDP almost halved by 47 % between 1990 and 2015, while in the US it dropped by 43 %, in Australia by 33 % and in Canada by 26 %.

Figure 8: CO2 emissions from fuel combustion per capita, by country, 1990 and 2015
(tonnes of CO2 per capita)
Source: International Energy Agency (IEA)

In 2015, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion per capita varied widely across the globe. On average, an Australian emits almost ten times as much as an Indian citizen. Even within the group of industrialised countries, emission levels per person vary widely. The US average is, for example, more than twice as high as the EU average. However, between 1990 and 2015, per capita emissions between industrialised and other countries appeared to be converging. While per capita emissions have decreased in the EU (– 25.5 %) and the US (– 19.1 %), emission levels per person have increased in emerging economies, with the biggest rises taking place in China (+ 256.5 %) and South Korea (+ 114.2 %). Over the same time frame, the global average per capita emissions increased by 13.4 %, reaching 4.4 tonnes of CO2 in 2015.

Figure 9: Global and European annual mean temperature deviations, 1850–2017
(temperature deviation in °C, compared with 1850–1899 average)
Source: European Environment Agency (online data code: (sdg_13_30))

Rising emissions have dramatically increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Although there is a time lag between CO2 emitted and the corresponding increase in average global surface temperature, recordings already show a clear upward trend (see Figure 9). The first decade of the 21st century was on average 0.87 °C warmer than the first decade of the 20th century. Furthermore, at 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels, 2017 was the warmest year since records began in 1850. Current projections estimate that global mean temperatures could rise by as much as 2.6 °C to 4.8 °C compared with the reference period (1986–2005) by the late 21st century (2081–2100) if CO2 emissions remain at current levels [11].

Despite the EU’s shrinking share of global CO2 emissions, recent findings on the increasingly severe impacts of climate change confirm its climate and energy goals continue to be important [12]. EU emission cuts alone cannot halt climate change, but the GHG reduction objectives for 2030 and 2050 are considered a fair contribution to the global mitigation efforts, consistent with the internationally agreed objective of keeping the temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels [13]. Moreover, if the EU can show that a low-carbon economy is feasible, and leads to increases in innovation and employment, it will serve as a role model for other regions. Continuous investment in advanced low-carbon technologies can also help the EU uphold technological leadership and secure export markets. A successful clean energy transition, discussed in the next section, will provide optimal conditions for sustainable jobs, growth and investment.

Renewable energy on the rise

Renewable energy keeps growing steadily

The Europe 2020 strategy’s second climate change and energy target foresees a 20 % increase in the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption by 2020. Gross final energy consumption comprises the energy supplied to final consumers for all energy uses and the consumption of electricity and heat by the energy sector for electricity and heat production, including losses of electricity and heat in distribution and transmission.

Figure 10: Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, EU-28, 2004–2016
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_31)

Figure 11: Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, by country, 2004 and 2016
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_31)

Between 2004 and 2016, the share of renewable energy doubled, reaching 17.0 % of gross final energy consumption in 2016 (see Figure 10). The main drivers of this increase were rapid developments in technology, the implementation of support schemes for renewable energy technology and the falling costs of renewable energy systems [14]. Over the past decade, there has been a steady growth in installed capacity for renewable electricity and heat generation, driven by policies such as feed-in tariffs, grants, tax credits and, more recently, tenders. At the same time, the introduction of obligatory quotas has stimulated the use of renewable transport fuels [15]. Furthermore, in the electricity sector, an upscaling of global production volumes and technological advances have led to substantial cost reductions. New photovoltaic power stations built in 2016 produce electricity for a third of the costs required in 2009. The offshore wind industry has achieved similar reductions, roughly halving costs per kilowatt-hour between 2011 and 2016 [16]. In short, electricity from wind turbines and large solar installations is becoming increasingly competitive with old and new fossil fuel plants.

Differences between Member States in their share of renewable energy, as shown in Figure 11, stem from variations in available natural resources, such as the potential for building hydropower plants and the availability of biomass, but also from the success of national climate and energy policies. Nevertheless, all EU countries increased the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption between 2004 and 2016. Fifteen have more than doubled their share, albeit in many cases from a low starting point. In 2016, 11 countries already met their 2020 targets.

Compared with other world regions, the EU’s use of renewable energy is relatively high. The continent of Africa, where the use of traditional biomass is still widespread, procured more than half of its total final energy consumption from renewable sources in 2015. Most emerging and industrialised countries, however, have lower shares. For example, China covered 6.1 % of its final energy consumption through renewable sources in 2015, followed by Mexico with 6.0 %, Australia (5.8 %), the United States (5.2 %) and Japan (1.3 %). In the Middle East, the share was as low as 0.2 %. In terms of primary energy supply, Canada had a relatively high share of renewable energy, amounting to 18.2 % in 2015 due to abundant hydropower resources [17].

Shares of renewable energy are growing across different sectors

Figure 12: Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, by sector, EU-28, 2004–2016
Source: Eurostat Eurostat online data code (sdg_07_40)

Renewable energies contribute both to electricity generation and energy consumption for heating and cooling as well as to the transport sector. As shown in Figure 12, renewables contributed almost a third of gross final electricity consumption in 2016, which is twice the share reported in 2004. Moreover, renewable energy provided almost one-fifth of Europe’s final energy consumption for heating and cooling in 2016, up from 10.3 % in 2004. The share of renewables in transport energy use has also increased since 2004, reaching 7.1 % in 2016. The break in the time series in 2011 can be explained by a change in the accounting methodology for liquid biofuels [18].

A 2015 amendment to the Fuel Quality Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive puts greater emphasis on production of advanced biofuels (biofuels stemming from the residual non-food parts of crops, as well as crops that are not used for food). Furthermore, it places limitations on the extent to which liquid biofuels produced from crops grown on agricultural land can contribute to renewable energy targets in transport. Alternative biofuels, mainly based on used cooking oil, contributed 23 % to all compliant biofuels used in the EU in 2015, up from 1 % in 2009 (see the European Commission’s 2017 Renewable energy progress report).

Biofuels dominate renewable energy but wind and solar are expanding quickly

Figure 13: Gross inland consumption of renewable energy, by source, EU-28, 2004 and 2016
Source: Eurostat online data code (nrg_107a)

Renewable energy can be generated from a range of sources, including hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power. In 2016, bioenergy (solid biofuels, renewable waste, biogas and bioliquids) remained by far the EU’s most important renewable energy source and contributed to all energy-use sectors (electricity generation, transport and heating and cooling), providing almost two-thirds of the total gross inland consumption of renewable energy (see Figure 13). Nevertheless, wind and solar energy have continued to grow the fastest in terms of relative shares. In 2016, the EU generated 26.0 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) from wind energy — a more than five-fold increase compared with 2004. In the same year, solar energy (both photovoltaic and thermal) contributed 13.4 Mtoe, more than 19 times as much as in 2004. Overall, the ongoing decrease in shares of bioenergy relative to wind and solar photovoltaic is a function of rapid expansion in the latter two technologies than a reduction in consumption of the former. Similarly, the contribution of hydro power to gross inland consumption remained relatively constant between 2004 (28.3 Mtoe) and 2016 (30.1 Mtoe).

The EU needs to further pursue energy efficiency improvements

Delivering the same service or product by using less energy is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing GHG emissions and enhancing energy security. Building renovations as well as efficiency improvements in the transport sector offer the biggest potential for further reductions (see the European Commission’s 2017 Energy efficiency progress report).

The Europe 2020 strategy has a target to increase energy efficiency by 20 %. In absolute terms this means that by 2020 EU energy consumption should not exceed 1 483 Mtoe of primary energy or 1 086 Mtoe of final energy (see Art. 3 of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the Council Directive adapting the Energy Efficiency Directive as a result of the accession of the Republic of Croatia). The EU efficiency target is measured as a 20 % saving compared with projected primary energy consumption (PEC) in 2020. Starting with 2005 as base year, this business-as-usual projection (carried out in 2007) estimated a PEC of 1 853 Mtoe in 2020. It assumed continuous economic growth and no additional energy-efficiency policies above and beyond those in place in 2005. The envisaged 20 % saving amounts to an absolute reduction of 370 Mtoe, resulting in a target PEC of no more than 1  483 Mtoe for 2020 [19]. Compared with the actual PEC in 2005, this is equivalent to a reduction of 13.4 %.

PEC includes all gross inland energy consumption except energy carriers used for non-energy purposes, for example, petroleum or gas not used for combustion but for producing plastics. By contrast, final energy consumption (FEC) only comprises the energy consumed by end users (e.g. households, industry and agriculture) for all energy uses, excluding energy used by the energy sector. The difference between primary and final energy consumption is equivalent to the energy losses occurring during energy transformation (particularly electricity generation), transmission and distribution.

Energy consumption in the EU has been decreasing, but with a reversed trend in recent years

Figure 14: Primary energy consumption and final energy consumption, EU-28, 1990–2016
(Million tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat online data codes (t2020_33) and (t2020_34))

As Figure 14 shows, PEC in the EU was following an intermittent but overall rising trend until 2006 when it peaked at 1 722 Mtoe. After the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, it fell sharply and continued to fall over the next four years, reaching 1 509 Mtoe in 2014 (with an exceptional increase in 2010). The downward trend was interrupted in 2015, when PEC increased by 1.5 % compared to the previous year and by another 0.7 % in 2016 compared to 2015. Reductions in 2011 and 2012 can be partly attributed to reduced economic output expressed by a 0.5 % contraction of real GDP in 2012. However, PEC continued to fall thereafter, despite a real GDP growth of 1.8 % in 2014 [20]. Warmer years in 2013 and 2014, and improvements in energy efficiency due to new policies, are considered to have contributed to this decrease (see the European Environment Agency's Trends and Projections Report 2016). The increases in 2015 and 2016 reflect a return to more average heating demand compared to the exceptionally warm year 2014 (see the European Commission’s 2017 Energy efficiency progress report). In 2016, the EU consumed 1.7 % less primary energy than it did in 1990 and 10.0 % less than in 2005. To achieve its 2020 efficiency target, the EU would need to reduce its PEC by another 3.9 % in the four years between 2016 and 2020.

The trend in FEC has closely followed the trend in PEC, rising to 1 108 Mtoe in 2016, up from 1 063 Mtoe in 2014. Notably, the EU had already reached its 2020 target for FEC in 2014, but the increased consumption in subsequent years means an additional 2.0 % decrease is required by 2020. In 2016, FEC was 7.1 % lower than 2005.

Globally, only one major economy has reduced PEC by more than the EU: Japan consumed 18.4 % less primary energy in 2016 than it did in 2005. The United States reduced its PEC by 6.9 % over the same period, whereas energy demand rose in all other large industrialised countries and regions. The highest increase over the past decade was observed in China, which increased its PEC by 66.9 % followed by India (64.9 %), Turkey (59.8 %), the Middle East (55.6 %), Thailand (36.6 %) and Korea (35.2 %) [21]. An increase in PEC can, however, occur despite energy efficiency improvements. In emerging economies, in particular, high economic growth and population drive demand for energy.

Changes in energy consumption at Member State and sector level

Figure 15: Change in primary energy consumption, by country, 2016
(Index 2005= 100)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_33)

Figure 15 shows the change in PEC from 2005 to 2016 in all Member States. Looking at the 2016 data, 26 countries reduced PEC compared to 2005 by values ranging from 0.9 % to 24.9 %.

Between 1990 and 2016, economic sectors showed different FEC trends (see Figures 16 and 17). Agriculture and forestry, as well as industry, reduced their FEC by 24.9 % and 25.4 %, respectively, while the residential sector’s consumption increased just 3.9 %. By contrast, energy consumption in the services and transport sectors grew by 37.6 % and 29.2 %, respectively, over the same time period. Notably, energy consumption in all sectors grew by varying amounts in 2016, which again may reflect a return to more typical winter temperatures [22]. In the shorter term, between 2008 and 2016, FEC reduced by 13.1 % in the industry sector, 2.6 % in the transport sector and 5.7 % in the residential sector. In contrast, energy consumption in the service sector remained constant over the same time period.

Figure 16: Final energy consumption, by sector, EU-28, 1990 and 2016
(% in total FEC)
Source: Eurostat online data code (nrg_100a)

Figure 17: Final energy consumption, by sector, EU-28, 1990–2016
(Index 1990=100)
Source: Eurostat online data code (nrg_100a)

While these changes reflect sector-specific levels of energy-efficiency improvement, they also relate to structural changes in the EU economy, particularly a shift away from an energy-intensive industry to a service-based economy. In the case of transport, a large share of efficiency gains has been outweighed by rising volumes of transport over the past few decades. In 2016, the majority of final energy was used in transport with a 33.2 % share, followed by industry (25.0 %) and the residential sector (25.7 %). The services sector was responsible for 13.5 % and agriculture and forestry for 2.2 % of FEC.

EU's dependency on energy imports has been increasing

Energy-efficiency improvements can strengthen the EU’s competitiveness and lower its dependence on fossil fuel imports. The EU’s energy dependence — the share of total energy needs met by imports from non-EU countries — has increased significantly over the past decade, reaching 53.6 % in 2016 (see Figure 18). The increasing demand for fossil fuel imports is driven by a decline in domestic oil, gas and coal production [23]. By contrast, most renewable energy can be sourced domestically. At 74.3 %, in 2016, crude oil (without natural gas liquids, NGL) accounted for the largest share of total petroleum product imports, which have risen steadily from 75.7 % of total energy consumption in 2000 to 86.7 % in 2016. The imported share of solid fuels such as hard coal has gone up by 9.6 percentage points between 2000 and 2016, while the share of imports in total gas consumption has increased by 21.4 percentage points. Over the observed period, the fall in EU mining and drilling has overcompensated the increase in domestic renewable energy production.

Figure 18: Energy dependence, EU-28, 1990–2016
(% of imports in total energy consumption)
Source: Eurostat online data code (sdg_07_50)

Figure 19: Energy imports from outside the EU, EU-28, 2016
(% of total extra-EU-28 imports)
Source: Eurostat online data codes (nrg_122a), (nrg_123a) and (nrg_124a)

Figure 19 shows the chief suppliers of energy to the EU. The main import partner in 2016 was Russia. It supplied 40.2 % of gas, 34.6 % of petroleum products and 30.2 % of solid fuels imports from non-EU suppliers. The second largest source of natural gas was other non-EU European countries, mainly Norway, with 25.1 %. Also 11.8 % of oil imports came from this region. The second largest source supplying oil to the EU after Russia was the Middle East, with 19.9 %, followed by Africa with 14.0 %. Regarding solid fuels, Central and South America were the second largest source after Russia with 23.5 %, followed by North America with 16.1 %.

Dependence on imported energy exposes the European economy to significant costs and the risk of supply shortages, for example, due to geopolitical conflicts. The expansion of renewable energy sources and the improvement of energy efficiency reduce these risks. At the same time, they contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy’s employment objective (see the article on ‘Employment’) by creating jobs and value added within EU borders.

Data sources

Indicators presented in the article:


Unchecked climate change threatens to erode the foundations on which modern society is built by changing weather patterns, redrawing coastlines and degrading natural ecosystems. To avoid dangerous levels of global warming, the international community, including the EU, has committed to limiting the rise in mean global temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and seeks to further limit the increase to 1.5 °C. These objectives were enshrined in the Paris Agreement signed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2015.

In response to the international goal, the EU has pledged to drastically reduce its GHG emissions. The Europe 2020 strategy reinforces this commitment, aiming to turn the EU into a ‘low-carbon’ economy. The European Council has reconfirmed the EU objectives to reduce emissions by 80–95 % by 2050 compared with 1990, in the context of similar reductions to be taken by developed countries as a group. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the most prevalent and accounted for about 81 % of the EU’s GHG emissions in 2016 (not counting land use, land use change and forestry) [24].

The low-carbon transition is not only a strategy to prevent climate change. Climate and energy policies also contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy's core objective of the of enabling sustainable growth. For one, promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency — two key levers for reducing emissions — fosters innovation and creates jobs. The EU’s ‘20-20-20’ targets are thus interlinked with other Europe 2020 goals, in particular those for research and development (R&D) and employment. Moreover, climate mitigation has further environmental and health benefits, such as reducing local air pollution and alleviating the health risks it poses.

Creating demand for green products while boosting innovation and export strength in the growing global market will be key to mastering new technologies such as smart grids, energy storage and electric vehicles. At the same time, improved energy efficiency will bolster the competitiveness of EU businesses by lowering production costs. Renewables and energy efficiency measures also reduce energy dependence and have the potential to save the EU between EUR 175 and 320 billion in energy import costs per year over the next 40 years [25].

The EU’s Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy, introduced in 2015, complements existing climate change and energy policies covering the period up to 2020 and will guide the development of policies for the following decade up to 2030 and beyond. To implement the strategy, the European Commission has presented a range of initiatives, including the Accelerating Europe's transition to a low-carbon economy Package in July 2016, the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package in November 2016 and the Clean Mobility Package in November 2017. The package encompasses a set of legislative proposals and facilitating measures. Many of these have been agreed and others are currently being discussed in the European Council and in the European Parliament.

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  19. Directive 2013/12/ EU of 13 May 2013 adapting Directive 2012/27/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on energy efficiency, by reason of the accession of the Republic of Croatia.
  20. Based on Eurostat data on real GDP growth rate — volume (online data code: (tec00115), accessed 7 July 2017).
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    Figures for China, India, Thailand and the Middle East refer to 2015 data. Figures for the United States, Turkey, Japan and Korea refer to 2016 provisional data
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