Energy production and use, including the energy used in transport, account for some 80% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions. So, to tackle climate change effectively, we will have to largely 'decarbonise' our energy systems by moving away from fossil fuels. For the longer term, we are committed to cutting our emissions by 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Commission has published a Roadmap to a low-carbon economy which lays out the path to a competitive low-carbon economy by 2050. This shows we could achieve an 80% reduction through domestic measures alone in the most cost-effective way.

Row of floating wind turbines during hazy day © iStock

Energy efficiency will be a fundamental part of our action beyond 2020 as energy efficiency can improve Europe's economic competitiveness and our energy security, as well as reducing emissions. EU is already leading global efforts on sustainable energy. While our substantial domestic commitments see us on track to a 20% share of renewable energy in the EU by 2020, there is still further work to be accomplished in the field of energy efficiency with the time horizon of 2020.

EU domestic achievements

The 2020 climate and energy package

The climate and energy package is a set of binding legislation which aims to ensure the European Union meets its ambitious climate and energy targets for 2020. The targets were set by EU leaders in March 2007, when they committed Europe to become a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy, and were enacted through the climate and energy package in 2009.

These targets, known as the "20-20-20" targets, set three key objectives for 2020:

  • A 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels;
  • Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%;
  • A 20% improvement in the EU's energy efficiency.

These targets represent an important first step towards building a low-carbon economy. They are also headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. This recognises that tackling climate and energy challenge contributes to the creation of jobs, the generation of "green" growth and a strengthening of Europe's competitiveness.

The EU 2030 climate & energy framework

EU leaders agreed in October 2014 on new climate and energy objectives for 2030 following a proposal put forward by the European Commission. The  2030 framework aims to make the European Union's economy and energy system more competitive, secure and sustainable. It will increase certainty for investors, especially for long-term infrastructure projects, and give guidance to EU governments in preparing national policies.

A centrepiece of the 2030 framework is the binding domestic target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This will put the EU on the most cost-effective path towards its agreed objective of an 80-95% reduction by 2050. EU leaders also agreed on raising the share of renewable energy to at least 27%, and an indicative energy efficiency target of at least 27% to be reviewed in 2020 having in mind a 30% target. The proposed framework will bring multiple benefits: reduced dependency on imported energy, a lower bill for imported energy, greater innovation, economic growth and job creation, increased competitiveness and better health through reduced air pollution.

Promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources

The EU has adopted a Directive which establishes a common framework for the use of energy from renewable sources in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and promote cleaner transport. To this end, national action plans are defined, as are procedures for the biofuels. A wide-range of schemes, policies and legislation to promote renewable energy is being implemented across the EU.  

Energy efficiency regulation

The EU is seeking a 20% cut in Europe's annual primary energy consumption by 2020. The Commission has put in place a number of measures to increase efficiency at all stages of the energy chain: generation, transformation, distribution and final consumption.

These measures focus on the public transport and building sectors, where the potential for savings is greatest. Other measures include the introduction of smart meters (which encourage consumers to manage their energy use better), and energy labels that help consumers choose products which save energy and thus money.

Renewable Energy Roadmap 

The Renewable Energy Roadmap sets out the Commission's long-term strategy for renewable energy in the European Union (EU). The aim is to enable the EU to meet the twin objectives of increasing security of energy supply and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also includes the target of producing 20% of total EU energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020, as well as measures for promoting renewable energy sources in the electricity, biofuels and heating and cooling sectors.

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the cornerstone of the European Union's policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. The first - and still by far the biggest - international system for trading greenhouse gas emission allowances, the EU ETS covers more than 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 31 countries, as well as airlines. It operates in the 28 EU countries and the three EEA-EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and covers around 40-45% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020, emissions from sectors covered by the EU ETS will be 21% lower than in 2005. Under the Commission's current climate and energy proposals for 2030, they would be 43% lower.

National targets for sectors outside the EU ETS

Around 55-60% of the EU's total emissions come from sectors outside the EU ETS such as housing, agriculture, waste and transport (excluding aviation). These sectors contribute to emission reductions under the so-called Effort Sharing Decision which sets binding annual targets for Member States.

The national targets covering the 2013-2020 period are set on the basis of Member States' relative wealth (measured by Gross Domestic Product per capita). They range from a 20% emissions reduction (compared to 2005) by the richest Member States to a 20% increase by the least wealthy (although this will still require a limitation effort by all countries). Member States must report on their emissions annually under the EU monitoring mechanism .

Horizon 2020  - Energy

Climate action is a central driver of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme for the 2014-2020 period. Horizon 2020 has been designed to deliver the innovation necessary for a smooth transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy. Some 35% of the 80 billion euro strong Horizon 2020 budget is targeted to be allocated for supporting projects and initiatives in different climate-related research and innovation areas ranging from low-carbon technologies (in energy, transport, industry and the construction sector).

Energy research and innovation have an essential role to play in addressing the challenge of satisfying security of energy supply, competitiveness of EU industry and ensuring affordable prices for the citizens, whilst at the same time combating climate change. This means looking for synergies with other sectors, e.g. telecoms and ICT industry. A number of energy and ICT technologies need to be available to provide European citizens with the widest energy source choice, while respecting the right of Member States to decide on their own energy mix. At the same time, it is essential that future solutions are in line with:

  • the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020;
  • the objective of a further reduction up to 80-95% by 2050.

EU involvement in UN initiatives and actions on energy at international level

In the context of the EU's international relations in the area of energy, the EU systematically ensures that issues concerning the promotion of, access to and use of sustainable energy sources are part of the cooperation with third country partners. This principle is anchored in all our energy policy strategies, for example in the Communication "The EU Energy Policy: Engaging with Partners beyond Our Borders", the 2030 energy and climate framework and the European Energy Security Strategy

Sustainable Energy for All

The fight against energy poverty has been a driver of the EU's development agenda for more than a decade. In 2004, the EU Energy Initiative was set up as a collaborative platform between the European Commission and its Member States in order to join forces in the fight against energy poverty. In 2007, it became one of the cornerstones of the Joint EU-Africa Partnership, integrating energy issues in programming. Between 2007 and 2013, the European Commission contributed more than €2 billion to energy, a large part of which was dedi­cated to the African continent.

Following the adoption of the EU's overseas aid policy, Agenda for Change, and the strong commitment to support the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All initia­tive, the EU developed a comprehensive set of actions and has rolled out more than €600 million over the last two years alone to address energy poverty. This work will be further reinforced with about 30 countries that have chosen energy as a focal sector for their bilateral cooperation with the EU in the current multi-annual financial framework (2014-2020), in our regional and multilat­eral dialogues with international partners.

There is a wide-range of projects demonstrating the EU's commitment to substainable energy throughout the world.

Africa-EU Energy Partnership

The Africa-EU Energy Partnership aims to increase effectiveness of African and European efforts to secure reliable and sustainable energy services in the coming decades on both continents and to extend access to modern energy services and expand the use of renewable energy in Africa.

In April 2014, the Commission announced grants of €95 million for 16 projects across nine African countries (Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Cameroon, Liberia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Rwanda) to provide access to energy in rural areas, an amount which will translate into €155 million worth of projects (through co-financing support by applicants) and bring electricity to more than 2 million people.

EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund

To support the implementation of the Partnership, the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund was launched in 2007. It encourages the financing of infrastructure programmes which facilitate interconnectivity and regional integration on the African continent. It aims to support synergies between European development agencies for the benefit of Africa, leveraging additional funds by blending grants from the European Commission and EU Member-States with long-term loan finance made available by eligible financiers. The hugely successful EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund has built a pipeline of new energy projects totaling some €700 million in grant requests.  These projects have a total investment value of overall €9 billion. To date, the EU has already approved a contribution of more than €105 million for projects, catalysing investments that are changing the lives of millions of people. Part of the EU financial support is in the form of equity that can be reinvested in similar projects once the current ones have matured.

Empowering rural communities

In 2013, the EU issued a call for proposals for projects addressing the energy poor in rural areas through scaling-up proven successful actions having high impact on poverty reduction.

Its specific objective was to improve access to modern, affordable and sustainable energy services for rural poor by focusing on renewable energy solutions as well as on energy efficiency measures.  Special attention was given to innovation characteristics of the projects, the promotion of the productive use of energy, meaning actions and activities aiming at increasing access to energy services for local productive activities so as to promote economic growth, generate jobs and consequent increased affordability for energy services.

The call proved to be very successful, attracting 149 project proposals submitted by government, civil society and private sector organisations, for providing energy access to rural areas of African and Caribbean ACP countries  and requesting more than €825 million in grant financing.  More than 80 projects were evaluated to be of high quality and to this effect the EU increased its initial budget allocation from €55 million to a total of €125 million.

Global Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Fund

The Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund invests public and private sector risk capital in specialist renewable energy and energy efficiency private equity funds developing small and medium-sized projects in emerging markets. The aim is to catalyse private sector investments into funds and underlying projects by leveraging public sector seed contributions. GEEREF's funds focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects which deploy proven technologies.