Europe 2020 indicators - climate change and energy

Data from June 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables. Planned article update: May 2017.

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).

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 overcome the structural weakness in Europe’s economy, to improve its competitivenes and productivity and to underpin a sustainable social market economy.

In 2009, the EU committed to limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, through reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as unchecked climate change would erode the foundations of modern society. This commitment was reinforced and strengthened in 2015 by signing to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Focusing on the most important GHG, carbon dioxide (CO2), the Europe 2020 strategy aims to turn the EU into a so-called ‘low carbon’ economy based on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Europe 2020 strategy targets on climate change and energy

The Europe 2020 strategy sets three objectives for climate and energy policy, to be reached by 2020 [1]:

  • Reducing GHG emissions by at least 20 % compared with 1990 levels;
  • Increasing the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption to 20 %; and
  • Moving towards a 20 % increase in energy efficiency.

These targets are 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.

The analysis in this article is based on the four headline indicators that have been chosen to monitor each of the climate and energy targets: ‘GHG emissions’, ‘share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption’, ‘primary energy consumption’ and ‘final energy consumption’.

Contextual indicators are used to present a broader picture, looking into the drivers behind changes in the headline indicators. Changes in EU GHG emissions are analysed in relation to underlying sectoral trends. EU trends are then compared with information on the global trend in GHG emissions and its impact on global mean temperature and the climate system. The analysis then turns to the two most important measures for cutting EU emissions, namely energy supplied from renewable sources and energy efficiency. For both fields, progress at the EU and Member State levels is assessed with a special focus on the wider socioeconomic effects of the emerging green economy.

Key messages

  • In 2014, EU greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions from international aviation and indirect CO2 emissions, were down by 23.0 % compared with 1990 levels. The EU is thus expected to exceed its Europe 2020 target of reducing GHG emissions by 20 % by 2020.
  • All sectors, except for fuel combustion in transport and international aviation, contributed to the reductions between 1990 and 2014. However, the average global surface temperature continues to rise: 2015 was the warmest year on record.
  • Renewable energy is on the rise: In 2014, renewable energy provided 16.0 % of gross final energy consumption in the EU, up from 8.5 % in 2004. Over the same period, gross electricity generated from renewable sources reached 27.5 %, up from 14.4 %.
  • Thanks to cost reductions and effective support schemes, the share of wind and solar energy has increased particularly quickly. Their levelised cost of electricity, i.e. the average total cost to build and operate solar or wind projects divided by their total energy output, is increasingly competitive with fossil fuel-based power generation.
  • For transport, renewable energy provided 5.9 % of all energy used in 2014, up from 1.0 % in 2004.
  • The EU has made substantial progress towards its energy efficiency objective. In 2014, the EU consumed 12.0 % less primary energy than in 2005. Compared with the hypothetical projection for EU primary energy consumption underlying the 2020 target, the EU had saved 15.7 % of primary energy up to 2014.
  • The EU still relies heavily on energy imports from non-EU countries, which provided 53.5 % of all energy consumed in 2014. The main supplier of energy to the EU in 2014 was Russia. It supplied 29.9 % of total gas imports, 25.6 % of imports of petroleum products and 25.9 % of imports of solid fuels.
Figure 1: Headline and contextual indicators presented in the article

Main statistical findings

The EU’s GHG emission reductions are approaching the 2020 target

Reducing GHG emissions is a central objective of the Europe 2020 strategy. As a result, the EU as a whole aims to reduce these 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 aviation industry. It allows these economic actors to trade emission allowances among themselves. The cap shrinks each year to reach an emissions reduction of 21 % compared with 2005 by 2020.

The Effort Sharing Decision sets binding annual GHG emissions targets for Member States for sectors not included in the EU ETS. Member States’ targets for the non-EU ETS sectors (such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste) vary between a 20 % reduction to a 20 % increase in emissions by 2020, reflecting differences in starting points and wealth. Less wealthy economies are allowed to increase their emissions to accommodate higher economic growth. Their targets still limit emissions compared with business-as-usual scenarios; hence all Member States are committed to reduction efforts. By 2020, the national targets would collectively result in a reduction of around 10 % in total EU emissions from the non-EU ETS sectors compared with 2005 levels.

Together, the EU ETS and the Effort Sharing Decision aim to reduce overall emissions to around 14 % below 2005 levels by 2020 [2]. This would equal a 20 % cut below 1990 levels. In addition to these overarching instruments, the EU has set an array of policy tools to address emissions from certain sectors and activities. The Context section lists the most important tools.

Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions, EU-28, 1990-2014 (1)
(Index 1990=100)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_30)

By 2014, the EU as a whole had cut man-made GHG emissions by 22.9 % compared with their 1990 levels (see Figure 2). A large portion of this reduction occurred during the 1990s. Between 1990 and 1994 a large drop of 6.8 % occurred, mostly due to structural changes (such as a shift from heavy manufacturing industries to more service-based economies), modernisation in industries and a change from coal to gas. Emissions began to rise again in 1995, but this trend reversed in 1997. Between 1998 and 2007 emissions stabilised at around 92–94 % of 1990 levels. This was mainly a result of growth in the use of lower carbon fuels, particularly renewable energy sources, offsetting increases in primary energy consumption. However, significant cuts were also made in the waste sector through the use of treatment processes with a lower carbon footprint and in agriculture due to a decline in livestock numbers and nitrogenous fertiliser use [3].

By far the sharpest single-year decline in energy consumption and 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 only saw slow recovery in many parts of Europe. The decline of CO2 emissions observed between 2009 and 2012 can mainly be attributed to three factors: improvement in the energy intensity of the EU economy, development of renewable energy sources and the economic slowdown. The economic slowdown, however, accounts for less than a half of the total emission reductions achieved during this period [4].

From 2012 to 2013, GHG emissions fell by 1.9 %, while GDP slightly picked up again with a growth of 0.2 % [5]. The largest share of emission reductions during this year were achieved in the energy sector, with more than 80 % of cuts occurring because of lower emissions from electricity generation in thermal power stations [6]. Between 2013 and 2014, GHG emissions decreased further by 4.0 %, despite a 1.4 % growth in real GDP [7]. This decrease was the result of additional emission reductions in the energy sector, particularly in electricity and heat production. Furthermore, warmer temperatures in Europe in 2014, as well as an increase in non-combustible renewables used for electricity generation, led to emission reductions in the residential and commercial sectors [8].

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions per capita, by country, 2005 and 2014 (1)
(Tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: European Environment Agency (online data code: t2020_rd300)
Figure 4: Greenhouse gas emissions and projections, 1990-2050 (1)
(Million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: European Environment Agency

Dividing emissions figures by population provides a way of comparing countries’ GHG emissions on a more equal footing. Figure 3 shows Member States’ overall per capita GHG emissions for the years 2005 and 2014. Luxembourg emitted the most GHG per capita in the EU in 2014. This can partly be 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 [9]. Luxembourg was followed by Estonia, Ireland, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. In contrast, per capita emissions were lowest in Romania.

Between 2005 and 2014, Luxembourg showed the highest reduction in per capita emissions. Ireland, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark and Cyprus also showed large falls. However, emissions rose in the eastern Member States of Estonia and Latvia between 2005 and 2014.

Looking towards 2020, the projection of GHG emissions based on Member States’ existing policy measures shows the EU is on track to reach the 2020 target. However, it can also be seen that existing and planned measures are not enough to put the EU on track to meet the 40 % GHG reduction target for the next decade until 2030 [10]. Thus, further efforts will be needed.

All sectors except transport have lowered emissions since 1990

Figure 5: Greenhouse gas emissions per sector, EU-28, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2014
(Million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: European Environment Agency, Eurostat online data code (tsdcc210)

Figure 5 shows how 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 2014.

In absolute terms, the energy industries contributed the largest emission reductions between 1990 and 2014 with 413 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Nevertheless, it is still the sector responsible for the largest share of total emissions (28.2 % in 2014). The second largest reduction of 372 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent was achieved in the manufacturing industries and construction.

By contrast, transport emissions were 13.3 % higher in 2014 than in 1990. Fuel combustion in transport accounted for 20.1 % of total EU emissions in 2014, making it the second largest source after the energy industries. However, transport emissions were even in higher in 2007, where they peaked at 987 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and then fell by 10.0 % until 2014. Fuel price increases, along with the economic recession appear to have reduced freight transport demand. Moreover, the share of less carbon-intensive fuels such as LPG and liquid biofuel blends increased (EEA, 2014). However, improving energy efficiency and increasing the share of alternative fuels remain crucial to reducing the transport sector’s GHG emissions, particularly when economic growth picks up again.

Emissions from international aviation nearly doubled between 1990 and 2014, with an increase from 70 to 137 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Overall positive developments in non-ETS emissions since 2005

Figure 6: Greenhouse gas emissions in non-ETS sectors, by country, 2012 (1)
(% change since ESD base year)
Source: European Environment Agency, Eurostat online data code (t2020_35)

Figure 6 shows Member States’ non-ETS emissions between the ESD base year and 2012, as well as their 2020 non-ETS targets. Twelve countries reduced their emissions and have already fulfilled their national targets. Emissions increased in five countries, but remained within national targets. Eleven Member States are still above their national reduction targets, although all of them had reduced emissions up to 2012. Luxemburg was the furthest from its target, followed by Denmark, Germany and Ireland.

The overall positive trend for non-ETS emissions in the EU can be linked mainly to the building sector as a result of energy efficiency improvements and a less carbon-intensive fuel mix for space heating (EEA, 2015). However, mild winter temperatures are also partly responsible for the fall in energy demand. The reductions in transport emissions since 2007 also contributed to the decrease.

Global CO2 emissions and mean temperature continue to rise

Figure 7: Global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2013
(Million tonnes of CO2)
Source: International Energy Agency (IEA)
Figure 8: Global annual temperature deviations, 1850-2016 (1)
(Temperature deviation in °C, compared to 1961-1990, average)
Source: Climatic Research Unit, Universtiy of East Anglia and the UK Met Office Hadley Centre

Despite reductions in the EU, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion rose by 56.1 % between 1990 and 2013, as shown in Figure 7. Most of the increase took place in emerging economies. Emissions growth, both in relative and absolute terms, was strongest in China. Between 1990 and 2013, its annual CO2 emissions more than quadrupled and the country overtook the United States to become the world’s biggest emitter. At the same time, its per capita emissions from fuel combustion reached 6.60 tonnes of CO2, out-pacing the EU level of 6.57 tonnes [11].

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 2013 (197.4 % and 88.7 % respectively). As a result of these trends, the EU’s share of global CO2 emissions has been shrinking, from almost a fifth in 1990 to 10.4 % in 2013.

Rising emissions have dramatically increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Although there is a time lag between CO2 being emitted and the corresponding increase in average global surface temperature, recordings already show a clear upward trend (see Figure 8). Between 2001 and 2010, the global surface temperature was 0.89 °C higher than during the first decade of the 20th century. The year 2015 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 [12].

Despite the EU’s shrinking share in global CO2 emissions, recent findings on the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change confirm the ongoing importance of its climate and energy goals. EU emission cuts alone cannot halt climate change, but if it can show that a low-carbon economy is feasible, and can even increase innovation and employment, it will serve as a role model to other regions. Continuous investment in advanced low-carbon technologies can also help the EU uphold technological leadership and secure export markets. A successful transformation of the energy sector, discussed in the next section, is pivotal in this respect.

More renewable energy means fewer EU emissions

Renewable energy has been growing steadily since 2004

The Europe 2020 strategy’s second climate change and energy target is to increase the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption to 20 % by 2020. Final energy consumption comprises the energy supplied to the final consumers for all energy uses.

Figure 9: Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, EU-28, 2004-14
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_31)
Figure 10: Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption, by country, 2005 and 2014 (1)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_31)

Between 2004 and 2014, the share of renewable energy almost doubled, reaching 16.0 % of gross final energy consumption in 2014 (see Figure 9). Support schemes for renewable energy technology and falling renewable energy system costs were the two main drivers of this increase. Policies such as feed-in tariffs, grants, tax credits and quota systems have led to steady growth in installed capacity for renewable electricity and heat generation as well as the use of renewable transport fuels over the past decade. The scaling up of global production volumes and technological advances have allowed producers to substantially cut costs per unit. Prices of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules experienced the biggest plunge, falling by 61 % between 2009 and 2015. Onshore wind turbines became 14 % cheaper during the same period [13].

These price falls led some Member States, such as Germany or Italy, to restrict support for new renewable energy projects, which reduced profitability for investors. In combination with a weak economic climate, this resulted in less projects being planned and realised and thus slower growth in capacity. The addition of renewable capacity peaked in 2011 at 35.8 GW and has been declining ever since. Only 19.9 GW were installed in 2014 [14].

The renewable energy industry has also become a key sector for research and innovation in Europe, generating a rapidly increasing number of patents (see the R&D and innovation article).

In 2014, the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption in Member States ranged from 52.6 % in Sweden to 4.5 % in Luxemburg (see Figure 10). Differences stem from variations in 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. All EU countries have increased their renewable energy share between 2005 and 2014. Twelve have more than doubled their share, albeit from a low base. Nine have already met their 2020 targets. In 2014, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland were farthest from reaching their national targets.

Biofuels dominate renewable energy but wind and solar are expanding fast

Figure 11: Gross inland consumption of renewable energy, by source, EU-28, 2000 and 2014
Source: Eurostat online data code (nrg_107a)
Figure 12: Gross electricity generation from renewable energy sources, EU-28, 1990-2014
(Gigawatt hours)
Source: Eurostat online data code (nrg_105a)

Renewable energy can be generated from a range of sources, including hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power. Biofuel remains by far the most important renewable energy source in the EU because it contributes to all energy use sectors (electricity generation, transport and heating and cooling). In 2014, solid biofuels, renewable waste, biogas and bioliquids provided 64.1 % of the total gross inland consumption of renewable energy (see Figure 11). At the same time, wind and solar energy are growing the fastest. In 2014, the EU generated 21.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) from wind energy, a more than eleven-fold increase compared with 2000. In the same year, solar energy contributed 12.0 Mtoe, more than 27 times as much as in 2000.

After a rapid expansion in the past decade, renewables contributed 27.5 % of total gross electricity generation in 2014, compared with 14.4 % in 2004 [15]. Hydropower remained the largest source, but was declining in relative weight as wind, solar and biogas were developing rapidly (see Figure 12).

Moreover, renewable energy provided 17.7 % of Europe’s energy for heating and cooling in 2014, up from 10.2 % in 2004 [16]. Solid biofuels delivered the largest share of the total renewable share, followed by minor contributions from biogas, solar thermal, and ambient heat captured by heat pumps.

Renewable energy share in transport increasing slowly

Figure 13: Share of renewable energy in fuel consumption of transport, EU-28, 2004-14 (1)
Source: Eurostat online data code (tsdcc340)

Between 2011 and 2014, the share of renewables in transport energy use increased from 3.4 % to 5.9 %. Figure 13 shows an almost continuous increase of this share since 2004, with a break in 2011 when the accounting methodology changed.

The Renewable Energy Directive (Directive 2009/28/EC) sets sustainability criteria for the production of liquid biofuels, which make up the lion’s share of renewables in transport [17]. From 2011, only those biofuels certified as sustainable according to the Directive are counted towards the share of renewables in transport and are therefore included in the indicator. Some Member States transposed the sustainability standards into national law earlier than others. The change explains the drop in the share of renewables in transport from 2010 to 2011.

The consumption of bioliquids in transport has been growing steadily, but also slowly. In 2014, the overall share of renewable energy in transport was at 5.9 % in the EU. Half of the Member States achieved a share of at least 5%.

Political uncertainty surrounding the future development of biofuels is one reason for the slow growth. There has been an increasing awareness that certain biofuel production pathways can lead to higher overall greenhouse gas emissions due to indirect land use change. Furthermore, alternative, second-generation biofuels are still not widely available on the market (see the 2015 Renewable energy progress report and the accompanying technical assessment by the European Commission). A 2015 amendment to the Fuel Quality Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive puts greater emphasis on production of advanced biofuels, i.e. biofuels stemming from the residual non-food parts of crops, as well as crops that are not used for food purposes. Furthermore, it introduced a 7 % cap on the contribution of liquid biofuels produced from crops grown on agricultural land towards the 2020 renewable energy transport target. Member States have to transpose the Directive into national legislation by 2017. The data in Figure 12 does not take into account the accounting rules enacted by this amendment; instead the previous accounting rules are used.

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 options for reducing GHG emissions. Building refurbishment, followed by the transport and industry sectors, offer the biggest potential for improvement (see the Energy Efficiency Plan 2011).

The target is to move towards a 20 % increase in energy efficiency. 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 the Energy Efficiency Directive).

Primary energy consumption includes all gross inland energy consumption except energy carriers employed for non-energy purposes, for example, petroleum or gas not used for combustion but for producing plastics. By contrast, final energy consumption only comprises the energy supplied to the final consumer’s door for all energy uses. 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 is on a downward path

Figure 14: Primary energy consumption and final energy consumption, EU-28, 1990-2014
(million tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat online data codes (t2020_33) and (t2020_34))

As shown in Figure 14, PEC was relatively stable in the EU between 1990 and 1995. In 1996 it increased by about 60 Mtoe (almost 4 %), compared with the previous year. It remained almost unchanged throughout the period from 1997 to 2000, but rose again between 2001 and 2004. In 2006 PEC peaked at an annual consumption of 1 722 Mtoe. Following the economic crisis, it fell sharply by 123 Mtoe until 2009, dropping below the 1997 level. After rebounding in 2010, PEC fell again in the following years to 1 507 Mtoe in 2014. In 2014, the EU thus consumed 4.0 % less primary energy as it did in 1990 and 12.0 % less than in 2005. To achieve its 2020 target, the EU needs to reduce PEC by an additional 1.6 % in the six years between 2014 and 2020.

Much of the decrease between 2008 and 2009 may be attributed to reduced economic activity as a result of the financial and economic crisis, rather than to a structural shift in energy consumption patterns. In 2010, an especially cold winter caused a sharp increase in heating demand. The most recent reductions from 2011 onwards can again be partly attributed to reduced economic output expressed by a 0.5 % contraction of real GDP in 2012. However, primary energy consumption continued to decrease thereafter, despite a real GDP growth of 1.4 % in 2014 [18]. Warmer years in 2013 and 2014, and improvements in energy efficiency due to introduced policies, are considered to have contributed to this decrease (see the European Environment Agency's Trends and Projections Report 2015).

The analysis underlines the need to further pursue energy-efficiency measures. Continuous effort can ensure PEC will remain on a downward path even when economic growth accelerates. The trend in final energy consumption has closely followed the trend in primary energy consumption, reaching 1 061 Mtoe in 2014.

Measuring progress towards the EU energy efficiency target

Table 1: Savings in primary energy consumption compared with the PEC projection for 2020, EU-28, 2005-2014
(% of savings)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_33)

According to the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), the EU efficiency target is measured as a 20 % saving compared with a hypothetical projection for EU primary energy consumption (PEC). Starting with the 2005 base year, this business-as-usual projection (carried out in 2007) estimated a primary energy consumption 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 % savings amounts to an absolute saving of 370 Mtoe, resulting in a target value of no more than 1 483 Mtoe PEC for 2020 (See Council Directive 2013/12/EU]. Compared with the actual level of PEC in 2005, this is equivalent to a reduction of 13.4 %.

Table 1 shows the PEC savings compared with the hypothetical projection from 2005 to 2014. It is important to note that the difference between the underlying assumptions of the projection and reality has a certain influence on target achievement. Next to real improvements in energy efficiency, i.e. producing products and services with less energy input per unit compared with the projection, other factors can contribute. For example, economic growth in the EU since 2008 has been lower than the projections underlying the energy-efficiency target assume, thus resulting in lower absolute production levels and energy consumption than in the projection. Additional factors could be structural changes in the EU economy or lower than expected consumption of fuels for space heating due to unexpectedly warm years.

Breaking the energy efficiency target down to Member State level

Figure 15: Change in primary energy consumption, by country, 2014
(Index 2005= 100)
Source: Eurostat online data code (t2020_33)
Figure 16: Final energy consumption, by sector, EU-28, 1990–2014
(million tonnes of oil equivalent)
Source: Eurostat online data code (tsdpc320)

Figure 15 shows the change in PEC from 2005 to 2014 in all Member States. Looking at the 2014 data, 25 Member States reduced primary energy consumption between 2005 and 2014 by values ranging from 3.0 % to 28.9 %. Small increases were observed in Finland and Poland, while PEC has increased by 22.9 % in Estonia since 2005.

Between 1990 and 2014, the economic sectors followed different final energy consumption trends (see Figure 16). Agriculture and forestry, as well as industry, have reduced final energy consumption by 25.4 % each, while the residential sector’s consumption has remained fairly stable with a reduction of 4.0 %. By contrast, energy consumption in the services and transport sectors has gone up by 29.6 % and 24.2 % respectively over the same time period.

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 have been outweighed by rising volumes of transport over the past few decades. In 2014, the majority of final energy was used in transport with 33.2 %, followed by industry and the residential sector with 25.9 % and 24.8 % respectively. The services sector was responsible for 13.3 % and agriculture for 2.2 % of final energy consumption.

Despite recent reductions in energy consumption, substantial potential for cost-efficient improvements in energy efficiency remain untapped. This includes in particular the transport sector, the refurbishment of buildings, industrial processes and savings along the energy supply chain.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements reduce the EU’s dependence on energy imports

Figure 17: Energy dependence, EU-28, 1990–2014 (1)
(% of imports in total energy consumption)
Source: Eurostat online data code (tsdcc310)
Figure 18: EU imports of energy carriers by type of energy carrier
(thousand tonnes and million cubic metres)
Source: Eurostat online data codes (nrg_122a), (nrg_123a) and (nrg_124a)

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 53.5 % in 2014 (see Figure 17). Imports of fossil energy carriers such as petroleum, natural gas and hard coal are mostly responsible for this increase. By contrast, most renewable energy can be sourced domestically.

Dependence on imports of energy carriers 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 and contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy’s employment objective (see the article on Employment) by creating jobs and value added within EU borders.

Figure 18 shows where EU imports of energy carriers come from. The main supplier of energy to the EU in 2014 is Russia. It supplies 37.9 % of gas imports, 34.0 % of imports of petroleum products and 29.0 % of imports of solid fuels from non-EU suppliers. The second largest source of natural gas is other non-EU European countries, mainly Norway, with 32.0 %. Also 12.4 % of oil imports come from this region. The second largest source supplying oil to the EU after Russia is Africa, followed by the Middle East with 19.2 % and 14.5 % respectively. Regarding solid fuels, North America is the second largest source after Russia with 23.0 %, followed by Central and South America with 21.5 %.

Outlook towards 2020

According to the 2015 Climate action progress report, the EU is expected to exceed its 2020 GHG emission target. Also at the Member State level, regarding their achievement of individual non-ETS targets (manifested in the Effort-Sharing Decision), 24 countries are on track to meet their GHG targets (except Austria, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg) (See EEA Trends and Projections in Europe 2015). However, projections show that further efforts will be necessary to bring the EU on track towards the 2030 target.

With respect to renewable energy, the EU is currently on track to meet its 2020 target (EEA, 2015). However, the European Commission’s 2015 Renewable energy progress report emphasises that non-economic barriers, such as spatial planning, and administrative and authorisation procedures, need to be removed by many Member States to ensure progress continues. Further challenges include recent changes in national support schemes (See EEA “Trends and Projections in Europe 2015”), which can raise uncertainty and risk for investors.

The 2020 target for energy efficiency is within reach. Nevertheless, continuous efforts are needed to ensure primary energy consumption will remain on the downward path, even when the economic situation in the EU will improve. The 2015 Energy efficiency progress report concludes that additional efforts are needed in the buildings, transport and generation sectors.

Data sources and availability

Indicators presented in the article:


By changing weather patterns, redrawing coastlines and degrading natural ecosystems, unchecked climate change threatens to erode the foundations on which modern society is built. To avoid dangerous levels of warming, the international community, including the EU, committed to the objective of limiting the mean global temperature rise to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to drive efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C. This agreement was signed at the UNFCCC 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in 2015 in Paris. A target of 2 °C was already agreed upon in 2009 in Copenhagen (See the Copenhagen Accord).

To contribute to this global goal, the EU has pledged to continually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) it emits. The Europe 2020 strategy reinforced this commitment, aiming to turn the EU into a so-called ‘low carbon’ economy and reduce GHG emissions by 80–90 % by 2050 compared with 1990. Among all GHGs, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the most prevalent, accounting for about 82 % of the EU’s GHG emissions in 2013 (without LULUCF) (EEA, 2015). Other GHGs include nitrous oxide, methane and fluorinated gases. The aggregate of GHGs is often measured in CO2 equivalents to make the data comparable. In addition to mitigating climate change, climate and energy policies also have further environmental and health benefits, by helping to reduce air pollution and the health risks it poses. This lowers health costs and increases well-being, particularly in cities.

The transition towards a low-carbon economy is not only a strategy to prevent catastrophic climate change. Climate and energy policies contribute to the core objective of the Europe 2020 strategy of enabling sustainable growth. A push for renewable energy and energy efficiency — two key levers for reducing emissions — can spur innovation and create jobs. Therefore, the EU’s ‘20-20-20’ targets are also interlinked with other Europe 2020 goals, in particular those for research and development (R&D) and employment.

The EU can become a lead market in fields with high global demand. Creating demand for ever-better 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 or electric vehicles. At the same time, more efficient energy use will improve the competitiveness of EU businesses by lowering production costs.

Furthermore, more renewables and improved energy efficiency can reduce energy dependence and save the EU between EUR 175 and 320 billion of energy import costs per year over the next 40 years [19]. As recognised in the flagship initiative Innovation Union, a push for technological and policy innovation will be crucial for accomplishing this transformation.

The EU’s Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy, introduced in 2015, complements the existing climate change and energy governance until 2020 and will guide the development until 2030. It aims to ensure secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy supply by focussing on five related and mutually supportive dimensions: 1) energy supply security of the EU; 2) the EU-internal energy market; 3) energy efficiency improvements; 4) GHG emission reduction; and 5) research and innovation.

Key policy instruments to reduce GHG emissions

The EU has adopted a number of instruments to complement the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD). The most relevant, given the energy sector’s importance as a major source of emissions, are those underlying the renewable energy and energy efficiency targets.

The Renewable Energy Directive [20] (RED) sets a framework for promoting energy from renewable sources. It establishes mandatory national targets, detailed planning and regular monitoring requirements, and rules on simplifying administrative procedures. Within this framework, Member States have leeway to develop their own support schemes for renewable technologies.

The Energy Efficiency Directive [21] (EED) creates an overarching framework for improving efficiency in Member States to ensure the EU’s energy efficiency target is met. It is complemented by sector-specific instruments such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which sets standards on insulation in newly built buildings, the Ecodesign Directive defining performance standards for energy-using products and the Energy Taxation Directive, which sets minimum rates for energy products.

To increase energy efficiency in the transport sector, the EU has set mandatory emissions reduction targets for new passenger cars [22]. Fleets must emit no more than an average of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2020. Similarly, the Vans Regulation limits CO2 emissions from new vans to a fleet average of 175 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2017.

The 2030 climate and energy framework

The 2030 climate and energy framework was adopted by EU leaders in October 2014 and builds on the 2020 climate and energy package. The strategy sets three key targets for the year 2030: • At least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels) • At least 27% share for renewable energy • At least 27% improvement in energy efficiency The 2030 framework is also in line with the long term perspective of the Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050, which sets out the pathway towards the EU’s objective of reducing emissions by 80–95 % by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

The consequences of climate change

In Europe and globally, temperature rises have already led to observable changes in natural systems and society. For example, the resulting warming of lakes and rivers have led to more frequent algal blooms and forced some species to move northwards [23]. Damage costs from natural disasters have increased and are likely to rise substantially in the future.

A European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment shows that the negative impacts of climate change will not affect European regions equally. It can increase existing vulnerabilities such as exposure to flood risk in coastal areas or drought in the Mediterranean region. Coastal erosion and flooding due to sea-level rise, as well as more extreme weather events such as storms and heat waves, are the most important threats to humans and infrastructure. In southern Europe, problems of water availability and more frequent droughts threaten to lower crop productivity even with a temperature rise of 1–2 °C, putting the region’s agricultural sector at risk [24].

By hitting marginalised regions and poor people the hardest, climate change might deepen socioeconomic imbalances in Europe.

Implementing the EU renewable energy target in the Member States

The EU’s renewable energy target has been broken down into national targets that reflect differences in resource base and wealth.

To ensure the renewable energy targets are met, the Renewable Energy Directive allows Member States to put in place support schemes and requires to remove administrative barriers to the authorisation, certification and licensing of renewable energy plants.

All Member States have developed national renewable energy action plans (NREAPs). These outline how they plan to achieve their target and include interim targets and trajectories per sector and technology. Progress on these plans is reported to the European Commission every two years. In addition, Member States report on their national renewable energy policies in the National Reform Programme under the Europe 2020 strategy.

National energy efficiency targets

The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) requires Member States to set indicative national energy efficiency targets for 2020. These can be based on different indicators (primary or final energy consumption, or primary or final energy savings, or energy intensity). To make these targets comparable, the Directive also requires each Member State to ‘translate’ its target into levels of primary and final energy consumption in 2020. In addition, Member States need to explain how this has been calculated. Taken collectively, the national indicative targets result in a 3 % higher PEC than the absolute 2020 target set at EU level, which means Member States overall are not aiming for sufficient energy use reductions (see the EEA Trends and Projections Report 2015).

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Other information

External links


  1. European Commission, Taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, COM(2014) 130 final, Brussels, 2014.
  2. Based on Eurostat data on greenhouse gas emissions, base year 1990 (accessed 6 July 2016).
  3. Viktoria Bolla and Velina Pendolovska, Driving forces behind EU-27 greenhouse gas emissions over the decade 1999–2008, Statistics in Focus 10/2011, Luxembourg: Eurostat, 2011, (p. 2).
  4. EEA, Why did GHG emissions decrease in the EU between 1990 and 2012?, 2014
  5. Based on Eurostat data on real GDP growth rate - volume (accessed 23 June 2016).
  6. EEA, Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory 1990-2013 and inventory report 2015. Technical report No 19/2015, Copenhagen 2015.
  7. Based on Eurostat data on real GDP growth rate - volume (accessed 23 June 2016).
  8. EEA, Total greenhouse gas emissions trends and projections. Website accessed 23 June 2016.
  9. Eurostat, Using official statistics to calculate greenhouse gas emissions. Luxembourg 2010 (p. 28).
  10. European Commission, European Council Conclusions 23 and 23 October 2014, Brussels 2014.
  11. IEA, CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion, 2015
  12. EEA, SOER 2015 - The European environment: Increasingly severe consequences of climate change (GMT 9), 2015.
  13. McCrone, Angus et al, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016. Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, commissioned by UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and produced in collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2016.
  14. Eurostat (online data code: nrg_113a)
  15. Eurostat (online data code: tsdcc330)
  16. Eurostat (online data code: tsdcc330)
  17. Eurostat: Shares 2014 — Short assessment of renewable energy sources. Last update: 10 February 2016.
  18. Based on Eurostat data on GDP growth rate - volume (accessed 13 April 2016).
  19. European Commission, Climate Action: Benefits of climate action. 2016. Accessed 1 June 2016.
  20. Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and the European Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC, 2009.
  21. European Commission, Directive 2012/27/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on energy efficiency, amending Directives 2009/125/EC and 2010/30/EU and repealing Directives 2004/8/EC and 2006/32/EC. European Commission, Brussels, 2012, Art. 3.
  22. Regulation 443/2009 of 23 April 2009 setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the Community’s integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles
  23. EEA, Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012, Copenhagen, 2013.
  24. EEA, Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012, Copenhagen, 2013.