Climate change mitigation: reducing emissions

Our climate is changing because of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Despite notable emission reductions over the last decades, the EU must transform production and consumption systems to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Mitigating climate change means reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This involves cutting greenhouse gases from main sources such as power plants, factories, cars, and farms. Forests, oceans, and soil also absorb and store these gases, and are an important part of the solution. Reducing and avoiding our emissions requires us to reshape everything we do — from how we power our economy and grow our food, to how we travel and live, and the products we consume. It is a problem felt locally and globally.

Reducing emissions requires rethinking society, economics, science and politics. The faster we act to reduce these emissions, the better off we will be in the future.

In the past decades, the EU took firm action against climate change, resulting in a more than 30% drop in EU emissions in 2020 compared with 1990 levels — well beyond the 2020 target to reduce emissions by 20%. This is mainly a result of a growing use of renewable energy and decreased use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels. Improvements in energy efficiency and structural changes in the economy also contributed to meeting these goals.

Now, more ambitious goals are set that include a net 55% or greater reduction below 1990 levels by 2030 and a climate-neutrality objective by 2050. Reaching these goals will require even higher emission cuts through transitioning from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. It also means halting deforestation, using land sustainably and restoring nature until we reach the point where the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is balanced with the capture and storage of these gases in our forests, oceans and soil.

The EU emits 6% of global emissions and cannot act alone. Global cooperation is essential for all climate change mitigation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement ensure cooperation across borders to tackle climate change and ensure a sustainable future.

EU Member States have put in place 2,300 policies and measures to prevent the worst impacts of climate changeNational climate change mitigation strategies, policies and other accompanying measures are also in development. These include targets for greenhouse gas emissions in key sectors of the economy, promoting the use of renewable energy and low carbon fuels, energy efficiency improvements in buildings, and many more.

Overall, the EU fully achieved its 2020 targets across all three target areas — greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Most Member States succeeded in meeting their individual 2020 climate targets as well.

Achievements in emission reductions vary across sectors too. Most EU sectors reduced greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades, with the highest reductions in the energy supply sector. Still, agriculture and transport struggle to reduce emissions:

  • Transport greenhouse gas emissions have increased every year since 2014.
  • Agriculture greenhouse gas emissions were stable from 2005 to 2021. National policies and measures in place across the EU are expected to deliver further reductions of only 1.5% by 2040.

The EU also achieved its target for renewable energy. By 2020, 22% of our energy consumed came from renewable sources, and 40% was energy production. For energy efficiency, the EU-27 overachieved the target in its final year, after an initial slow start.

The European Green Deal sets the overall roadmap for achieving EU climate neutrality by 2050 by tackling the threat of climate change while also growing economically and protecting people’s well-being. With the European Climate Law, the EU made climate neutrality by 2050 a legally binding goal, set an interim target of a net 55% emission reduction by 2030 and is working on setting the 2040 target. The Fit for 55 proposal aims to bring EU legislation in line with the 2030 goal.

The impacts of the 2022 gas and energy security crisis highlighted the importance of transitioning faster towards a clean and secure EU energy system.

Under the wider umbrella of the European Green Deal, Europe’s 2030 policy ambitions include:

  • Reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030;
  • Improving the share of renewable energy use;
  • Increasing energy efficiency;
  • Setting a more ambitious and cost-effective path to achieving climate neutrality by 2050;
  • Stimulating green job creation and continuing the EU’s track record of cutting greenhouse gas emissions while growing its economy;
  • Providing more opportunities to recharge or fuel vehicles with alternative fuels, and providing alternative power supply for ships and planes;
  • Encouraging international partners to increase their ambition to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C and avoid the most severe consequences of climate change;
  • Introducing a waste hierarchy for proper waste management that includes prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery, and disposal.

To accelerate this transition, Europe must ensure that investments and finance support sustainability. Energy and mobility sectors especially must distance themselves from unsustainable technologies.

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