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Regional Knowledge Center

EU climate change policy

The European Union (EU) has long claimed, with some justification, to be a leader in international climate policy. Its policy activities in this area, dating from the early 1990s, have had enormous influence within and beyond Europe. The period since ca. 2000 in particular has witnessed the repeated emergence of policies and targets that are increasingly distinct from national ones and sometimes globally innovative.

Climate negotiations

EU was and is actively participating in all key climate negotiations including:

  • UN climate convention
  • Paris Agreement
  • Kyoto Protocol
  • UNFCCC meetings-
  1. Conferences of the Parties (COP)
  2. Meetings of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)
  3. Subsidiary bodies
  • Other international fora
  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  2. G8 and G20
  3. Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF)
  4. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
  5. International Energy Agency (IEA).

More information here: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations_en

Climate strategies & targets

The EU has set itself targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions progressively up to 2050, where EU should cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. To accomplish it, there are set climate and energy targets for 2020 and for 2030. These targets are defined to put the EU on the way to achieve the transformation towards a low-carbon economy.

For the year 2020 there are three set key targets:

  • 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels);
  • 20% of EU energy from renewables;
  • 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

For the year 2030 there are three set key targets:

  • 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 EU is taking action in several areas to meet the targets - emissions trading system (ETS), national emission reduction, renewable energy, innovation and financing, energy efficiency.

More information here:  https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies_en

Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

The EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) operates in 31 countries (all 28 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The EU ETS is a cornerstone of the EU's policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. Set up in 2005, the EU ETS is the world's first and biggest international emissions trading system, accounting for over three-quarters of international carbon trading. The EU ETS works on the 'cap and trade' principle.

A cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by installations covered by the system. The cap is reduced over time so that total emissions fall. Within the cap, companies receive or buy emission allowances which they can trade with one another as needed. Trading brings flexibility that ensures emissions are cut where it costs least to do so. A robust carbon price also promotes investment in clean, low-carbon technologies.

It is planned that:

  • In 2020, emissions from sectors covered by the system will be 21% lower than in 2005;
  • In 2030, under the Commission's proposal, they would be 43% lower.

More information here:  https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets_en

Effort Sharing: Member States' targets

The Effort Sharing legislation establishes binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for Member States for the periods 2013–2020 and 2021–2030. These targets concern emissions from most sectors not included in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.

The Effort Sharing Decision forms part of the EU's climate and energy policy framework for 2020. It sets national emission targets for 2020, expressed as percentage changes from 2005 levels. It also lays down how the annual emission allocations (AEAs) in tonnes for each year from 2013 to 2020 are to be calculated and defines flexibilities.

The Regulation on binding annual emission reductions by Member States from 2021 to 2030 (Effort Sharing Regulation) adopted in 2018 is part of the Energy Union strategy and the EU's implementation of the Paris Agreement. It sets national emission reduction targets for 2030 for all Member States, ranging from 0% to -40% from 2005 levels.

More information here: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/effort_en

Low Carbon Innovation

New technology development is essential to enable Europe to meet EU and global climate change objectives. It is also a major contributor towards the EU's innovation, jobs and growth agenda.  New and innovative low carbon technologies help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new employment and growth.

As well as taking a leading global role in the development of low-carbon technology, the EU also supports the uptake of low-carbon technology internationally, in the places where it is most needed. The EU initiated the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF), an innovative global risk capital fund that will use limited public money to mobilise private investment in small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in developing countries and economies in transition. It is both a development tool and a contribution to global efforts to fight climate change. It is concrete proof of Europe's commitment to transfer clean technologies to developing countries.

More information here: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/lowcarbon_en

Transport emission

Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities. The transport sector has not seen the same gradual decline in emissions as other sectors: emissions only started to decrease in 2007 and still remain higher than in 1990. Within this sector, road transport is by far the biggest emitter accounting for more than 70% of all GHG emissions from transport in 2014.

With the global shift towards a low-carbon, circular economy already underway, the Commission's low-emission mobility strategy, aims to ensure Europe stays competitive and able to respond to the increasing mobility needs of people and goods. By midcentury, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will need to be at least 60% lower than in 1990 and be firmly on the path towards zero.

More information here:  https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport_en

Ozone layer

EU legislation to protect the ozone layer is among the strictest and most advanced in the world. The international community established the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer in 1987. Policies put in place by the EU and its Member States often go beyond the requirements of the Montreal Protocol.

The Ozone Regulation is the cornerstone of EU legislation to protect the ozone layer.  Objectives of the Ozone Regulation:

  • Fulfil the obligations of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer to which the EU and its Member States are parties;
  • Where technically and economically feasible, ensure higher level of ambition in the EU.

This is achieved by:

  • Prohibiting all uses of ozone-depleting substances for which alternatives are feasible;
  • Controlling and monitoring exempted uses of ozone-depleting substances where alternatives are not feasible;
  • Controlling and monitoring other ozone-depleting substances which are not regulated under the Montreal Protocol but have the most significant impact on the ozone layer.

See more information https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ozone_en

Land-based emissions

Forests and agricultural lands currently cover more than three-quarters of the EU's territory and naturally hold large stocks of carbon, preventing its escape into the atmosphere. Draining of peat land, felling of forest or ploughing up grassland generates emissions, while actions such as afforestation or conversion of arable land into grassland can protect carbon stocks or result in carbon sequestration. EU Member States have to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change or forestry are offset by at least an equivalent removal of CO₂ from the atmosphere in the period 2021 to 2030.The Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) implements the agreement between EU that all sectors should contribute to the EU's 2030 emission reduction target, including the land use sector. Also there has been established the REDD+ initiative at international level to combat deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics, where the vast majority of forest destruction takes place. REDD+ also has major implications for agriculture (the source of another 12% of global GHG emissions), rural development and adaptation to climate change in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

See more information https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/forests_en

Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases

Fluorinated gases (‘F-gases’) are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly. The European Union is therefore taking regulatory action to control F-gases as part of its policy to combat climate change. By 2030 it will cut the EU’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds compared with 2014 levels. This represents a fair and cost-efficient contribution by the F-gas sector to the EU's objective of cutting its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050.The expected cumulative emission savings are 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2030 and 5 gigatonnes by 2050.

See more information https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/f-gas_en

Adaptation to climate change

Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. Adaptation strategies are needed at all levels of administration: at the local, regional, national, EU and also the international level. Due to the varying severity and nature of climate impacts between regions in Europe, most adaptation initiatives will be taken at the regional or local levels. The ability to cope and adapt also differs across populations, economic sectors and regions within Europe. The Commission adopted an EU adaptation strategy which has been welcomed by the Member States. Complementing the activities of Member States, the strategy supports action by promoting greater coordination and information-sharing between Member States, and by ensuring that adaptation considerations are addressed in all relevant EU policies.

See more information https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation_en

Funding for climate action

The EU budget supports EU climate objectives through most budget programmes. DG Climate Action focusses on two aspects:

  • Supporting the lead services in integrating climate action into the various EU spending programmes, including the achievement of the target of making at least 20% of the EU budget climate related;
  • Managing a €864 million programme (LIFE climate action) to develop and implement innovative ways to respond to climate challenges.

In addition to the EU budget resources, DG CLIMA also manages the NER 300 programme for innovative low-carbon energy demonstration projects.

See more information https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/budget_en

European Climate Change Programme

At European level a comprehensive package of policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been initiated through the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Each of the EU Member States has also put in place its own domestic actions that build on the ECCP measures or complement them.

First European Climate Change Programme. The European Commission established the ECCP in 2000 to help identify the most environmentally effective and most cost-effective policies and measures that can be taken at European level to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The immediate goal was to help ensure that the EU meets its target for reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. This requires the countries that were EU members before 2004 to cut their combined emissions of greenhouse gases to 8% below the 1990 level by 2012.

Second European Climate Change Programme. The Second European Climate Change Programme (ECCP II) has explored further cost-effective options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in synergy with the EU’s Lisbon strategy’ for increasing economic growth and job creation. New working groups have been established, covering carbon capture and geological storage, CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles, emissions from aviation, and adaptation to the effects of climate change.

See more information https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eccp_en

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