SDG 13 - Climate action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Data extracted in August 2018

Planned article update: September 2019


EU trend of SDG 13 on climate action

This article provides an overview of statistical data on SDG 13 ‘Climate action’ in the European Union (EU). It is based on the set of EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an EU context.

This article is part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2018 edition’. This report is the second edition of Eurostat’s series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.

Goal 13 seeks to implement the commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to operationalise the Green Climate Fund and aims to strengthen countries’ resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters with a special focus on supporting least-developed countries.

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Climate action in the EU: overview and key trends

Monitoring SDG 13 in an EU context focuses on the topics climate mitigation, climate impacts and on initiatives that provide support to climate action. Over the past few years, the EU has achieved progress in climate mitigation, as shown in Table 1. The trends for the other two sub-themes, however, cannot be assessed due to various data issues.

Climate Mitigation

Climate mitigation aims to decrease emissions of climate-harming greenhouse gases (GHG) that originate from human activity or to enhance GHG sinks through an array of measures, such as the promotion of low-carbon technologies, the protection of forests and land use policy. The EU also pursues climate adaptation and resilience objectives as part of the Europe 2020 strategy [1] (see section below on resilience to climate impacts). Annual change in GHG emissions serves as the main indicator to track the success of climate mitigation measures. In the EU, the highest share of emissions comes from the production and consumption of energy [2]. As a result, curbing climate change in the EU context requires a shift to less carbon-intensive energy systems and cleaner (less GHG-intensive) and more resilient economies. A further indication of climate mitigation progress can be found in the rising share of renewable energy in energy consumption and increased energy efficiency in households, industry, the transport sector and the energy sector itself.

The EU has reduced its GHG emissions by 22.4 % compared to 1990

Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions, EU-28, 1990–2016 (Index 1990 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_13_10)

As part of its Europe 2020 strategy, the EU set a target to reduce GHG emissions by 20 % by 2020 compared to 1990. In 2016, EU emissions had already fallen by 22.4 %, putting them on track to meeting the 2020 target. A large proportion of these reductions have occurred over the past 15 years, with emissions falling by 16.8 % between 2001 and 2016. Reductions during the early 1990s were the result of many factors, including structural changes and the modernisation of European industries as well as a broad shift towards service economies and the use of natural gas[3]. In the following years, until 2007, emissions more or less stabilised. Around the same time, rising primary energy consumption was increasingly offset by low-carbon energy production, particularly renewable energy, which rose from an 8.5 % share in the energy mix in 2004 to 10.5 % in 2007 [4]. Also, during this period, manufacturing industries became more energy-efficient, the waste sector reduced the amount of emissions from solid waste disposal and agriculture reduced livestock and used less nitrogenous fertilisers [5].

Between 2008 and 2009 the economic crisis reduced industrial production, transport volumes and energy demand sharply, leading to a relatively steep decline in GHG emissions in the EU. Although gross domestic product (GDP) growth gradually picked up again in the following years, GHG emissions kept falling, due in large part to improvements in electricity generation and heat production (especially in thermal power stations), increased renewable energy generation and advances in energy efficiency [6]. Primary and final energy consumption, for instance, fell by 7.0 % and 4.2 %, respectively, in the period 2001 to 2016 [7]. Between 2008 and 2016, the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption increased by an additional 53.2 % — in 2016 the total share amounted to 17.0 % [8]. In addition, unprecedentedly high average annual temperatures and a general trend towards milder winters have reduced the need for heating fuel.

A sectoral break down of the years 1990 and 2016 shows that all sectors of the economy contributed to GHG emissions reductions, except transport. Fuel combustion in the energy industries showed the strongest absolute decrease in emissions, although it remained the main source in 2016. In contrast, transport emissions (excluding international aviation and shipping) were still 18.3 % higher in 2016 than in 1990, despite reductions between 2007 and 2014. After 2007, fuel price rises along with the economic recession reduced demand for freight transport, and energy efficiency improvements as a result of CO2 standards for new cars and vans contributed to emissions reductions, especially for passenger cars [9]. However, these could not offset growth in passenger car traffic. Transport accounted for 21.0 % of total EU emissions (excluding land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) and memo items; including international aviation) and was therefore the second largest emitter in the EU after the energy industries (26.9 %). Emissions from international aviation were more than twice as high in 2016 compared to their 1990 levels.

Although overall GHG emissions from transport have not reduced in line with other economic sectors, CO2 emissions per km for new passenger cars have been continuously falling since 2007. Between 2012 and 2017, emissions per km decreased by 10.4 % or 13.7 grams, reaching 118.5 grams of CO2 per km in 2017. Nevertheless, further progress will be required to meet the 2021 target of 95 grams of CO2 per km driven.

At the Member State level, significant differences in GHG emission trends can be observed between 1990 and 2016, ranging from reductions of almost 60 % to increases of more than 50 %. Most countries have reduced their emissions, with the largest relative falls taking place in the Baltic countries and some central and south-eastern European countries. For eastern European countries in particular, economic developments after 1990 led to extensive GHG reductions, which were further spurred on by modernisation in electricity and central heat production, as well as in direct fuel use such as for heating purposes.

Per capita emissions have continued to fall in most EU countries

For a more equalised comparison of countries’ GHG emissions, population differences need to be taken into account. Across the EU, per capita GHG emissions in 2016 ranged from 5.0 tonnes to 19.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalents. Luxembourg by far exceeded the per capita emissions of other Member States, which can be partly attributed to a considerably higher number of commuters and transit traffic flowing into and through the country [10]. Most countries reduced their per capita GHG emissions compared to 2001, except the Baltic states, Bulgaria and Poland which, after tremendous reductions in the 1990s, saw increases ranging from 2.9 % to 25.0 %.

GHG intensity of EU energy consumption has decreased gradually over the past two decades

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of energy consumption, EU-28, 2000–2016 (Index 2000 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_13_20)

The GHG intensity of energy is measured as the ratio between energy-related emissions and consumption — emissions per unit of energy consumed. Between 2001 and 2016, GHG intensity of energy consumption fell by 11.9 % with most progress reported in Malta (30.0 %), Finland (28.6 %), Denmark (23.7 %) and Sweden (22.6 %). These developments can be explained by a gradual shift away from GHG-intensive energy sources. Between 1990 and 2016, gross inland consumption of coal (and other solid fuels) and oil decreased from 65.1 % of total energy consumption to 49.2 %. Simultaneously, renewable energy and gas — both less GHG-intensive — increased their share in gross inland consumption, rising from 4.3 % to 13.2 % and 17.9 % to 23.3 % between 1990 and 2016, respectively. Despite nuclear phase-out policies in some EU countries, the use of nuclear energy has also increased marginally since 1990, rising from 12.3 % of gross inland consumption to 13.2 % [11].

Climate Impacts

Climate impacts refer to climate change-induced changes to environmental, social and economic systems. Three indicators are used for monitoring climate impacts, indirectly providing an indication of trends in terms of climate resilience in the EU: average global and European temperature, ocean acidity and the economic costs that arise as a result of weather- and climate-related disasters.

Continuous increases in near-surface temperatures and ocean acidity over the past decades

Figure 4: Global and European annual mean temperature deviations, 1850–2017 (temperature deviation in °C, compared to 1850–1899 average)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_13_30)

All temperature values discussed here refer to near-surface measurements, which are the most relevant to human activity. Historical recordings of the combined global land and marine temperature show a clear upward trend. In the decade from 2008 to 2017, average global near surface temperature was between 0.89 °C and 0.93 °C above pre-industrial levels [12]. In particular, 2017 was one of the three warmest years ever measured worldwide (together with the years 2015 and 2016), with temperatures between 1.0 °C and 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels. These data — especially global mean temperatures in the past few years — indicate that roughly half of the warming towards the 2 °C threshold has already occurred [13]. Warming effects are stronger over land than water, and as a result, warming in the northern hemisphere is more pronounced than in the southern hemisphere [14]. For this reason, the average annual temperature over the European continent has increased by more than the global average. In Europe, the decade from 2008 to 2017 was the hottest on record with an average temperature between 1.61 °C and 1.71 °C above pre-industrial times. Most recently in 2017, the mean temperature in Europe was between 1.73 °C and 1.81 °C above pre-industrial times [15].

Because oceans act as a reservoir for man-made GHG emissions — also referred to as a carbon sink — ocean acidity is an important indicator of the environmental impacts of climate change. As CO2 is absorbed into the world’s oceans it reduces the pH of the water, resulting in the ocean acidification recorded over the past few decades. In September 2014, the average acidity was calculated as 8.04 pH, which is an unprecedented low over pre-industrial levels of 8.2 and 8.3. Despite considerable annual variability the decline in ocean pH has been consistent (see the article on SDG 14 ‘Life below water’ for a more detailed discussion).

Economic losses from weather- and climate-related extremes have been considerable over the past decades, accounting for 83 % of monetary losses in EU Member States

Figure 5: Climate related economic losses by type of event, EU-28, 1980–2016 (EUR billion, in 2016 values)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_13_40)

While extreme events are only partially due to climate change, statistical attribution studies have shown that various climate extremes in Europe and beyond have become stronger and/or more frequent as a result of global climate change [16]. Economic or monetary losses refer here to damages caused by climate-related events expressed in euros (2016 values). Between 1980 and 2016 natural disasters caused by weather- and climate-related extremes accounted for about 83 % of the monetary losses in the Member States [17]. Moreover, over 87 000 casualties were registered over the same period [18]. However, reported economic losses generally reflect monetised direct damages to certain assets and as such should be considered only partial damage estimates. Losses related to mortality, cultural heritage or ecosystems services are not considered in the estimate; their inclusion would considerably raise the estimate.

Over the period 1980 to 2016, weather- and climate-related losses accounted for a total of EUR 410 billion in losses at 2016 values (over EUR 850 per capita) for Member States. Still, recorded losses vary substantially over time — more than 70 % of the total losses have been caused by just 3 % of disaster events. In contrast, the least damaging three quarters of the registered events were responsible for approximately 0.7 % of the total losses [19]. This variability makes the analysis of historical trends difficult. Furthermore, the distribution of weather- and climate-related losses across the EU has been historically uneven, ranging from EUR 72 per capita (in Estonia) to EUR 1 868 per capita (in Denmark) in cumulative losses between 1980 and 2016. The most expensive climate extremes in the period in question included the 2002 flood in Central Europe (over EUR 20 billion), the 2003 drought and heat wave (almost EUR 15 billion) and the 2000 extreme precipitation event in France and Italy (EUR 13 billion), all at 2016 values [20].

As a first step towards policy action and monitoring weather- and climate-related losses at the European level, a more rigorous scientific procedure is required to record the losses at different European governance levels and allow for the comparison, aggregation and sharing of data. Also, international compatibility, for example with data collected by the UN, should be considered. Currently, there is no standardised mechanism for reporting climate-related losses by Member States to the European Commission or the European Economic Area. However, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) has developed recommendations to improve national databases to help record disaster losses. Once these comparable databases are available for all European Economic Area member countries, there will be a more accurate picture of the costs related to climate change throughout Europe [21].

Support to climate action

Climate actions occur at multiple levels of governance in the EU and take various forms, such as policies, economic and strategic planning and financing schemes, among others. At an international level, the EU supports climate investments and initiatives outside of the EU, in particular in the most vulnerable countries, and thus contributes to achieving the USD 100 billion goal set within the auspices of the UNFCCC. The USD 100 billion goal represents a joint effort by developed countries to mobilise finance from various sources for mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. Complementing international and European-level action, the EU also supports the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, one of the EU flagship climate initiatives. The Covenant of Mayors mobilises local governments and regions to make voluntary but ambitious climate commitments that help achieve the EU emission reduction target and increase the climate resilience of European economies and societies.

At the domestic level, climate change mitigation and adaptation has been integrated into all major EU spending programmes [22]. Programmes under cohesion policy, agriculture, research and innovation and the Connecting Europe Facility [23] currently account for more than 90 % of EU climate-related spending. The sub-programme for climate action under the LIFE programme [24] for environment and climate change will provide EUR 864.2 million over the period 2014 to 2020 to develop and implement innovative ways to respond to climate challenges. In addition to the EU budget resources, the NER 300 programme [25] provides financing for innovative low-carbon energy demonstration projects.

The EU’s contribution to climate finance for developing countries has been increasing since 2014

Figure 6: Contribution to the international USD 100bn commitment on climate-related expending, EU-28, 2014–2016 (EUR million, current prices)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_13_50)

The EU and its Member States are committed to scaling up the mobilisation of international climate finance, as part of the collective developed countries' goal to jointly mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 through to 2025 for mitigation and adaptation purposes, from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels [26]. There are many rules and guidelines for reporting climate finance, with many developed countries following the reporting rules established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Organisations for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). At the European level, financing rules are laid down in Article 16 of the Monitoring Mechanism Regulation (MMR), which closely follow rules agreed under UNFCCC [27].

Total EU contributions towards the USD 100 billion per year goal increased from about EUR 14.5 billion in 2014 to EUR 20.2 billion in 2016 — a 39.2 % increase in two years. EU contributions vary significantly by Member State. The largest contributor to the international commitment in both 2014 and 2016 was Germany, with contributions increasing from EUR 5.1 billion to EUR 8.5 billion, followed by France. The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) were the third and fourth largest donors in 2016, respectively.

The number of signatories to the Covenant of Mayors is growing, with more than a third of the EU population represented by signatory authorities in 2018

Figure 7: Population covered by the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy signatories, EU-28, 2008–2018 (million people)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_13_60)

The Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, established in 2008, is an initiative for voluntary cooperation and coordination on climate action by local and regional authorities [28]. While initially focusing on mitigation measures only, from 2017 onwards the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy has explicitly concentrated on both mitigation and adaptation measures to promote an integrated approach to climate and energy action [29]. Local governments commit to implementing the EU’s climate and energy objectives by taking steps to curb GHG emissions, adapt to and mitigate climate impacts and secure sustainable and affordable energy within their jurisdictions. The Covenant of Mayors is mentioned in various EU Directives and strategy papers, such as the Energy Union Package [30], the Energy Security Strategy [31] and the Energy Efficiency Directive [32], as an important platform to deliver on strategic objectives targeted in those documents. Signatories’ objectives encompass various energy-related ends, such as the energy efficiency of buildings, energy security and renewable energy use.

By joining the Covenant of Mayors, participants in the past committed to submitting a Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) to the European Commission, including a baseline emission inventory, a GHG emission target for 2020 and planned actions to reach the target. Under the new Covenant of Mayors, signatories commit to deliver integrated Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAPs) instead of the SEAPs, as demanded in the Clean Energy for All Europeans package [33]. The new SECAPs include an obligation to pursue adaptation actions in addition to mitigation measures. Furthermore, signatories must set up a biennial monitoring process to measure progress towards their targets. Various actors at different levels of governance — including provinces, regions, ministries, metropolitan areas and groupings of local authorities — are eligible to become signatories. Since 2017, the reach of the initiative has increased beyond European borders, within the context of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

By June 2018, Covenant of Mayors signatories represented 198 million inhabitants within the EU. Italy had the highest number of signatories at the start of 2018 with 4 012, representing 45.0 million inhabitants, followed by Spain with 1 826 signatories representing 30.0 million inhabitants. Both countries together accounted for 79.1 % of signatories and roughly 38.0 % of the represented population within the EU. Naturally, the size of participating signatories differs. While many signatories in Italy and Spain are small municipalities, other countries have fewer but larger signatories. Germany, for example, only had 72 signatories at the start of 2018, but these represented 18.8 million people. Similarly, the United Kingdom had only 36 signatories, which still represented 20.9 million inhabitants. These figures are largely determined by the participation of the largest cities in these countries, Berlin and London. In 2017, Belgium had the highest share of population covered by the Covenant of Mayors, followed by Italy and Spain [34].

Currently, 891 signatories in 25 countries include adaptation commitments, covering 60.5 million inhabitants in the EU [35]. Although the inclusion of adaptation in signatories’ SECAPs is relatively new, the difference between the overall number of signatories and those that cover adaptation suggests that progress on adaptation lags behind mitigation.


Climate change already has observable effects, such as an increase in average global air and ocean temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, a rising global average sea level and rising ocean acidity. The impacts of climate change threaten the viability of social, environmental and economic systems and may make some regions less habitable due to food and water scarcity. As reflected in the Europe 2020 strategy, the EU pursues climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, for example, by reducing emissions of greenhouses gases and increasing the share of renewable energy in energy consumption. Moreover, through the 2013 Adaptation Strategy, the EU works to increase the climate resilience of its Member States and the EU as a whole. Since climate change is a global, cross-border challenge that affects areas differently, it demands international coordination and cooperation. Europe has taken a leading role in this context by engaging in international negotiations, pursuing the goals of the Paris Agreement and supporting climate initiatives around the world.

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More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2018 edition’.


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  4. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (t2020_31)).
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  7. Source: Eurostat (online data codes: (sdg_07_10) and (sdg_07_11)).
  8. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (nrg_ind_335a)).
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  11. Source: Eurostat (online data code: (nrg_100a)); all calculations are in tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE).
  12. Please note that these ranges refer to three different data sets (NOAA, GISSTEMP and HadCRUT) included in table (sdg_13_30), whereas Figure 4 and the respective analysis refer to the HadCRUT dataset only.
  13. European Environment Agency (2018), Global and European temperature.
  14. Friedman, A. R., Y.-T. Hwang, J. C. H. Chiang, and D. M. W. Frierson (2013), Interhemispheric temperature asymmetry over the twentieth century and in future projections. J. Climate, 26, 5419–5433.
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  24. European Commission, LIFE programme.
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  34. Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, The Covenant in figures.
  35. Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, The Covenant in figures.