Greenhouse gas emission statistics - air emissions accounts

Data extracted in December 2018.

Planned article update: February 2020.

In 2017, emissions of three main greenhouse gases generated by economic activities of EU resident units stood at 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents which is 14 % lower than 2008.
Greenhouse gas emissions by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2017
(% of total emissions in CO2 equivalents)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)

This article is about emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG emissions) classified by emitting economic activities. Eurostat records and publishes those in so-called air emissions accounts (AEA), one of the modules in the European environmental economic accounts (for which the legal basis is Regulation (EU) No 691/2011). AEA are suited for integrated environmental-economic analyses such as calculating emission intensities or 'footprints'.

In addition, Eurostat disseminates GHG emissions classified by technical processes. These are recorded in so-called GHG emission inventories and form the official data for international climate policies. Thirdly, Eurostat estimates and disseminates so-called 'footprints' which are GHG emissions classified by final products that are demanded by households or government, or that are invested in or exported.

This article analyses the emissions of three greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the European Union (EU) by emitting economic activities (industries and households). The three GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4). Fluorinated gases (hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride and natrium trifluoride), which are responsible for about 2 % of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, are not included in this analysis.

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Greenhouse gas emissions

In 2017, GHG emissions generated by industries and households in the EU-28 stood at 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

Analysis by economic activity

Air emissions accounts offer a detailed analysis by 64 emitting industries (classified by NACE) as well as households as defined and classified within national accounts. For the purpose of this article these 64 industries have been further aggregated to six groupings.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2017
(% of total emissions in CO2 equivalents)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)

In most activities carbon dioxide was the most emitted GHG. Agriculture, forestry and fishing was the only grouping of activities where emissions of methane and nitrous oxide (expressed in CO2 equivalents) were greater than those of carbon dioxide (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions by economic activity and by pollutant, EU-28, 2017
(thousand tonnes of CO2 equivalents)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)

Developments between 2008 and 2017

In 2017, the EU-28’s greenhouse gas emissions by industries and households were 14 % lower than they had been in 2008, in other words, 743 million tonnes less of CO2 equivalents were emitted in 2017 (Figure 1).

Between 2008 and 2017 the level of emissions from the supply of electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning fell by 333 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents, a fall of 24 % in relative terms. In absolute terms this was the largest decrease recorded among the activity groupings studied. It was followed by manufacturing, where emissions decreased by 222 million tonnes (21 % in relative terms).

Households in the EU-28 reduced their emissions by 56 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (a reduction of 6 %) between 2008 and 2017.

Analysis across the EU Member States

Among the EU Member States, the GHGs emitted by the various producers and households varied considerably (see Table 1). These differences are, in part, due to different economic structures and different mixes of renewable and non-renewable energy sources. In eleven EU Member States businesses supplying electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning were the main producers of GHGs in 2016, while in six more Member States manufacturing was the main producer. In Ireland and Latvia the activities of agriculture, forestry and fishing were the main emitters while in Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta transportation and storage activities were the main source of greenhouse gas emissions. Households were the main source of GHGs in France, Croatia, Italy, Hungary and United Kingdom.

Table 1: Greenhouse gas emissions by economic activity, 2016
(thousand tonnes of CO2 equivalents)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)

Greenhouse gas intensity

The ratio of greenhouse gas emissions (in tonnes of CO2 equivalents) to gross value added (in million euros) measures the greenhouse gas intensity in economic activities (see Figure 3). Gross value added is valued at basic prices, and the time series are compiled using chain-linked volumes to eliminate the effects of inflation: the gross value added data are presented with 2008 as the reference year. With 5 kg of CO2 equivalents per euro, the supply of electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning had by far the highest greenhouse gas intensity in the EU-28 in 2017. Agriculture, forestry and fishing had the second highest greenhouse gas intensity, 2.6 kg of CO2 equivalents per euro. Between 2008 and 2017, the largest fall in greenhouse gas intensity in relative terms was observed in manufacturing (29 %), while the biggest reduction in absolute terms was observed for the supply of electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning (1.5 kg of CO2 equivalents per euro). There were also reductions in intensity for the other activities shown in Figure 3 except for mining and quarrying where the greenhouse gas intensity increased by 3.2 %.

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas intensity by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2017
(kg of CO2 equivalents per euro)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_aeint_r2)

Data sources

Eurostat’s air emissions accounts (AEA) are legally based on Regulation (EU) No 691/2011 on European environmental economic accounts.

Annual data are transmitted by the EU Member States, as well as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries and some candidate countries.

Each greenhouse gas has a different capacity to cause global warming, depending on its radiative properties, molecular weight and the length of time it remains in the atmosphere. The global warming potential (GWP) of each gas is defined in relation to a given weight of carbon dioxide for a set time period (for the purpose of the Kyoto Protocol a period of 100 years). GWPs are used to convert emissions of greenhouse gases to a relative measure (known as carbon dioxide equivalents: CO2-equivalents). The weighting factors currently used are the following: carbon dioxide = 1, methane = 25, nitrous oxide = 298, and sulphur hexafluoride = 22 800; hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons comprise a large number of different gases that have different GWPs.

Eurostat calculates early estimates for greenhouse gases in air emissions accounts (timeliness: T+12 months). The developed methodology is based on the Proxy GHG inventories published by the European Environment Agency. In Figures 1, 2 and 3 of this article year 2017 data are the early estimates by Eurostat. Data in Table 1 are those reported by countries under mandatory reporting for year 2016.

In AEA, the emissions data are organised by economic activity, using the NACE classification. This arrangement makes it possible to have an integrated environmental-economic analysis to supplement national accounts. The scope encompasses production by all businesses resident in the country, including those operating ships, aircraft and other transportation equipment in other countries.

Air emissions accounts also include households as consumers. Their emissions are accounted for whenever household consumption is directly responsible for environmental pressures. For example, emissions from a privately owned car are accounted under households, whereas cars owned by transport businesses (such as taxis) are accounted under transportation and storage.

The following activity groupings are used in this article:

  • agriculture, forestry and fishing — NACE Rev. 2 Section A;
  • mining and quarrying — NACE Rev. 2 Section B;
  • manufacturing — NACE Rev. 2 Section C;
  • electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply — NACE Rev. 2 Section D;
  • transportation and storage — NACE Rev. 2 Section H;
  • other services, water supply and construction — NACE Rev. 2 Sections E to G and I to U, in other words all remaining economic activities as defined in NACE;
  • households — households as consumers.

Three perspectives of greenhouse gas emission statistics

Eurostat presents three perspectives of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions statistics:

Perspective Statistical framework Purpose Related data set Related SE article
1. GHG emissions classified by economic activities Air Emissions Accounts (AEA) by Eurostat tailored for integrated environmental-economic analyses env_air_aa this article
2. GHG emissions classified by technical processes GHG emission inventories by UN official international reporting framework for international climate policies (UNFCCC, EU MMR) env_air_gge link
3. 'footprints' = GHG emissions classified by final use of products Modelling results published by Eurostat one particular analytical application of AEA env_ac_io10 link

Emissions accounts versus emission inventories

The main differences between air emissions accounts (AEA) and GHG emission inventories are:

Air emissions accounts – greenhouse gases (residence principle) Greenhouse gas emission inventories (territory principle)
Emissions are assigned to the country where the economic operator causing the emission is resident. Emissions are assigned to the country where the emission takes place
Emissions are classified by economic activity, following the NACE classification of the system of national accounts. Emissions are assigned to processes classified according to their technical nature (e.g. combustion in power plants, solvent use).
Emissions from international navigation and aviation are assigned to the countries where the operator of the ship/aircraft is resident, regardless of where the emission takes place. Emissions from international navigation and aviation are assigned to the countries where the associated fuel is bunkered, irrespective of the operator's place of residence.

Note: National and EU totals differ between the two approaches, as different boundaries apply. GHG inventories include international aviation and maritime transport (international bunker fuels) as memorandum items, which mean that they are excluded from national totals reported. However, they are included in air emissions accounts totals. Therefore total emissions reported in GHG inventory databases can differ significantly from the total reported in air emissions accounts for countries with a large international aircraft and/or shipping fleet. AEA reconciles totals with emission inventories through so-called 'bridging items'.


The need to supplement information on the economy with environmental indicators was recognised in a European Commission Communication titled ‘GDP and beyond’ (COM(2009) 433). Furthermore, similar recommendations were made within the so-called Stiglitz report, released by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Such recommendations support the analysis of statistics on human well-being to supplement economic indicators such as gross domestic product, for example by including physical indicators related to the environment.

Air emissions accounts measure the interplay between the economy and the environment with respect to air emissions, in order to assess whether current production and consumption activities are on a sustainable path of development. Measuring sustainable development is a complex undertaking as it has to incorporate economic, social and environmental indicators. The data obtained from air emissions accounts may subsequently feed into political decision-making, underpinning policies that target both continued economic growth and sustainable development, for example, initiatives such as the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to achieve a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy for the EU by 2020.

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