European Union

Geopolitical Informations

510,1 (2016 estimate by Eurostat)
Total area
4,381,376 km2

Main legislative bodies

  • European Commission
  • Council of the European Union
  • European Parliament

Latest News

IN-DEPTH: State-of-the-art of EU ETS post-2020 revision talks

On June 27, the European Union (EU) Council, Parliament, and Commission met for trialogues that focused on discussing the revision of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) for the period after 2020. The next trialogue is projected to take place around July 10, and more technical meetings are to follow in order to finalise revision read more…

EU and China fail to issue statement on climate at summit

At the end of the summit between the European Union and China last Friday on June 2, 2017, the two global powers fell short of producing an expected joint statement on climate change because they remained divided on trade issues, as Reuters and Deutsche Welle report. Disagreement over steel production and the refusal of the read more…

EU approves stricter limits on pollutants from large power plants

EU Member States approved on Friday (April 28th) new limits to the pollutants European large power plants are allowed to emit. As reported by Reuters and other environmental and health non-governmental groups, the decision imposes stricter caps on emissions of some toxic pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide  (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM) and, read more…

Climate Policy Facts


Year Total GHG Emissions Excluding LUCF ( MtCO2e) Total GHG Emissions Excluding LUCF Per Capita ( tCO2e Per Capita) Total GHG Emissions Excluding LUCF Per GDP ( tCO2e / Million $ GDP)
1990 5384.83 11.27 468.83
1991 5333.52 11.14 461.37
1992 5171.42 10.77 444.04
1993 5066.61 10.51 435.1
1994 5030.47 10.41 419.73
1995 5047.23 10.43 407.32
1996 5146.2 10.62 406.92
1997 5047.49 10.4 388.1
1998 5038.64 10.36 376.53
1999 4960.52 10.18 360.26
2000 4960.5 10.16 346.67
2001 5019.08 10.26 343.44
2002 4977.18 10.15 335.9
2003 5065.86 10.28 336.49
2004 5076.25 10.26 328.04
2005 5034.28 10.13 318
2006 5043.85 10.11 307.55
2007 4995.06 9.97 294.67
2008 4901.82 9.75 287.31
2009 4570.61 9.06 280.48
2010 4663.41 9.22 280.59
2011 4540.94 8.95 268.72

The line chart shows the country’s carbon emissions by year, expressed in million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) for emission totals, and in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) for per capita and per dollar of GDP values. It is based on data from CAIT platform provided by the World Resource Insititute, and updated regularly with the most recent data available.

By selecting or deselecting each item, you can compare or give prominence to particular emission trends.


Energy Source Production (ktoe) TPES (ktoe)
Coal 164088,305 281555,527
Oil 97925,919 572187,599
Natural gas 158366,195 443899,352
Nuclear 238993,783 238993,783
Hydro 32213,622 32213,622
Geothermal 5900,914 5900,914
Solar thermal 1768,674 1768,674
Solar photovoltaics 1925,196 1925,196
Tide, wave, ocean 45,58 45,58
Wind 12831,372 12831,372
Biomass 81226,459 83942,235
Biofuels 24178,858 26888,834
Waste 19192,714 19211,174

The double-doughnut chart shows the country’s energy production and TPES (Total Primary Energy Supply), expressed in thousand tonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe). It is built on data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/International Energy Agency libraries, and updated regularly with the most recent data available.

The INNER RING represents the country’s energy production from each energy source, corresponding to the quantities of fuels extracted or produced.

The OUTER RING shows the country’s total primary energy supply of each fuel. It represents the net quantities of fuels made available on the domestic market, after foreign transfers and trading. According to IEA’s definition, TPES equals production plus imports minus exports minus international bunkers plus or minus stock changes.

Differences between production and TPES are significant as they highlight the actual country’s behaviour in the matter of a given energy source. Production values and TPES values of the same energy source may vary widely, especially in case of the much-traded fossil fuels.

National Policy

In 2015, the EU did submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in advance to the COP21 in Paris (see section on ‘International Policy’).


Based on the Lisbon treaty of 2007 and the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, climate and energy policy are shared competences of the EU and its member states. The EU energy policy is based on the three pillars of sustainability, competitiveness and energy security. The EU member states strive to deepen their integration and to build an internal energy market. Nevertheless, the member states retained their sovereignty over their own respective energy mix.

The legislative process on the level of the EU involves the European Commission, the European parliament and the European Council (see box on the left-hand side). The European Commission is the bureaucratic apparatus of the EU that comes forward with legislative proposals. It is independent from the national governments as well as the European Parliament, which is directly elected by the EU citizens. The European Council as the representation of the individual governments and the Parliament are the decision-making bodies of the EU.

The legislative instruments encompass directives, regulations and decisions. A directive relates to the member states by mandating with legal nature a result that has to be achieved. Which specific measures are taken to reach the target, is, however, at the discretion of the single member states. In contrast, a regulation is a legally-binding instrument that is directly applicable to the member states. Finally, decisions are EU laws relating to specific issues. The legislative procedure and the extent to which the Parliament has to be involved in the decision-making process depends on the exact case.

The member states of the EU are listed at the bottom of this page, including their respective year of accession to the EU.


The climate and energy policy of the EU is characterised by the frameworks for the timeframes until 2020 and 2030:

The 2030 Climate and Energy Framework sets out that GHGs shall be reduced by 40 percent below 1990 levels. In addition, renewable energies are supposed to contribute 27 percent to the energy consumption until this date. Moreover, 27 percent of energy shall be saved against the business-as-usual scenario through raised efficiency. However, the 2030 targets for renewable energies and energy efficiency are only legally-binding at the EU level, meaning that they will not be translated into nationally binding targets as it was the case for the 2020 package. Another objective of the 2030 framework is the completion of the internal energy market by achieving an interconnection of electricity of 15 percent between the EU member countries by 2030. Beyond that, the framework launched the preparation of the Energy Union which is a priority under the current presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission.
In order to achieve the objectives of the 2030 climate and energy framework, the European Commission has come forward with several proposals as part of the so-called “summer package” and “winter package” (see also below). As part of the winter package, the European Commission has proposed to increase the energy saving target up to 30 percent by 2030. Moreover, the GHG emission targets still have to be translated into national goals for the sectors that are not included in the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS; see below) of the EU. The European Commission has made a respective proposal (document COM(2016)482) which is yet to be adopted. Accordingly, the individual objectives would range from balancing emissions, i.e. 0 percent change in case of Bulgaria, to a reduction of 40 percent for Sweden.

The 2020 Climate and Energy Package, also called the “20-20-20 package“, introduced in 2007 commits the Union to a reduction in EU GHG emissions of at least 20 percent below 1990 levels; 20 percent of EU energy consumption to come from renewable resources; a 20 percent reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels, to be achieved by improving energy efficiency.
With the Effort Sharing Decision (406/2009/EC) the greenhouse gas reduction goal was translated into national goals for the sectors which are not included in the EU ETS. The shares range from a reduction of 20% by wealthier member states to an increase of 20 percent for member states with lower capacity compared to 2005 levels.
The economic crisis in 2008 and the continued economic difficulties in many EU member states have made the targets look much less ambitious than initially planned. Anyway, the 2020 have been accused to be internally inconsistent as the energy efficiency and renewable energy target would lead to GHG emission reductions of around 30 percent. As a consequence, the EU is largely in track to meet the goals. According to the Progress Report of the European Environmental Agency, greenhouse gas emissions were already 22 percent lower in 2015 than in 1990. However, there was a slight increase in emissions compared to 2014. The growth in renewable energies is progressing faster than anticipated and than required for the achievement of the 20 percent, too. Relating to energy efficiency, the pace of decreasing consumption is sufficient for reaching the 2020 target.

Moreover, the European Climate Change Programme was the first relevant action undertaken by the European Union to tackle climate change. It was launched in 2000 and aimed at guiding the EU activities towards a common strategy to achieve the Kyoto Protocol’s target. The programme was structured in a consultative process with which it was strived to identify potential and cost-effectiveness options. The main result of the ECCP has been a proposal for a Directive on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading.

Regarding to the longer-term vision, the European Commission presented a Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050 in 2011. According to the Roadmap, the EU strives to reduce its emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 in the context of the IPCC estimations.


The EU has put in place a wide array of concrete policies in order to reach the above-mentioned targets:

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED; Directive 2009/28/EC) sets binding targets for EU member states for increasing the share of renewable energies in their final energy consumption. Similar to the Effort Sharing Decision, the targets vary to reflect the different starting points with respect to renewable energies, the different economic situations and the ability to increase internal capacity. The 2020 goals thus range from 10 percent in Malta to 49 percent in Sweden. In addition, targets for the use of renewable energies in the transportation sector were included as well but were limited later on due to sustainability concerns of biofuels.
With the proposed revision of the RED as part of the “winter package“, a more balanced regulatory framework is supposed to be established. This shall ensure a level playing field of different energy supply types without endangering the climate and energy goals. As a consequence, the priority dispatch for renewable energies shall be abandoned for new installations. Justification is given by the higher variability of electricity supply as caused by the rising share of renewable energies, which represents a major difficulty for the management of grids. Nevertheless, support to renewable energies shall be continued where required after 2020. Moreover, the self-consumption of renewable electricity and the remuneration for feeding electricity into the grid by private citizens is supposed to be facilitated.

The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED; 2012/27/EU) stipulates that each EU member state should formulate a National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, including respective targets. The EED also provides that member states have to ensure the annual renovation of 3 percent of the building area owned by the central government. Moreover, an energy efficiency obligation scheme has to be established by the member states to ensure the achievement of the annual energy saving target of at least 1.5 percent by 2020.
Also the EED is supposed to be revised and the European Commission has made a respective proposal as part of its “winter package“. Accordingly, the annual saving target of 1.5 percent shall for example be extended beyond 2020.

In addition, there are many more legislative instruments in the area of energy efficiency such as the Directive on the energy performance of buildings (2002/91/EC), the Directive on eco-design requirements for energy-using products (2009/125/EC) and the Directive on labelling and standard product information on energy consumption by energy-related products (2010/30/EU). All three directives are supposed to be revised as proposed by the European Commission with its “winter package“.
The Directive on the energy performance of buildings sets inter alia minimum energy performance requirements for both new and existing buildings. From 2021 onwards, new buildings will have to be energy-neutral. Further, renovation rates shall be accelerated to decarbonise the building stock by mid-century. The European Building Initiative and the Smart Finance for Smart Building Initiative shall contribute to these efforts by acquiring the necessary means for investment.
As part of the Directive on eco-design requirements, an Eco-design Working Plan is supposed to be set up as well as product-specific measures be undertaken. In general, the Eco-design Directive and the Energy Labelling Directive shall be made more coherent to give consumers a better orientation at hand, as for example with a single energy labelling scale for all products.

Beyond that, the Directive on electricity (2009/72/EC) aims to support the development of the internal energy market on electricity and gas in the EU (see also above). It enables consumers to choose their supplier and enables new companies to enter the respective markets.
With the planned revision as part of the “winter package“, the directive is proposed to be amended to implement the key objectives of the Energy Union. Moreover, subsidies for fossil fuels as part of capacity mechanisms shall be limited which would rule out payments to old coal power plants.


The European Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS; 2009/29/EC) is a European-level emission trading scheme with binding targets for each Member State. The ETS includes emissions from large-scale facilities for instance in the energy sector and the iron and steel production. Overall, these sectors contribute 45 percent of the total EU greenhouse gas emissions. The first phase started in 2005, currently the scheme is in its third phase (2013-2020). Over time, additional greenhouse gases and new sectors such as aviation within the EU have been included. While allowances were mainly grandfathered in the first and second phase, auctioning is taking a larger role in the third phase. It intersects with the Kyoto Protocol allowing for a limited number of international credits coming from Kyoto offset mechanisms to count towards the individual caps. Managed through several regional and a central registry, the allowances are traded on six main market platforms.
Due to the oversupply of allowances resulting from excessive allowances in the beginning of the ETS and the economic stagnation after the financial crisis in 2008, several interventions have been made. Next to the higher reliance on auctions, the backloading strived to adjust the availability of allowances. Nevertheless, emissions still fall faster than the cap as long as no allowances are cancelled, meaning that the structural surplus in the ETS is getting even bigger.
As part of the “summer package“, the European Commission presented its proposal to revise the EU ETS for the period after 2020. This includes for example the increase of the annual rate of decline of emission allowances (linear reduction factor) from 1.74 percent to 2.2 percent. Moreover, an “Innovation Fund” shall support sectors affected by the ETS in their competitiveness to innovate low-carbon technologies. Moreover, a “Modernisation Fund” is supposed to facilitate the modernisation of the power sector and energy efficiency improvements in ten lower-income member states. Last but not least, a Market Stability Reserve (MSR) is proposed to follow the backloading. The European Parliament has largely approved the proposals of the Commission with only minor changes. Also the European Council has positioned itself, including the demand that allowances should be cancelled in the MSR after three years above a certain ceiling. Thus, final negotiations between the legislative body on the final design of the ETS reform can be initiated as of spring 2017.


Ten years after the previous White Paper on Transport, the European Commission launched in 2011 the New White Paper, Roadmap to a single European Transport Area, including 40 measures to build a competitive transport system to increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment, while reducing Europe’s dependence on imported oil and cut carbon emissions in transport by 60 percent by 2050.

In 2016, a European Strategy for low-emission mobility was presented by the European Commission. It suggests a number of measures to reduce emissions by 60 percent until 2050 below 1990 levels such as new and more stringent vehicle standards, fairer taxation to improve the competitiveness of railways and the speeding up of the market uptake of alternative transportation.

Moreover, the EU has set mandatory emission reduction targets for new light- and heavy-duty vehicles as part of the 2020 climate and energy package and the Fuel Quality Directive (2009/EC/30) represents the legislative basis for reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in vehicles for transportation.


The pillar of the European initiative on waste management is the “Thematic Strategy” adopted in December 2005 and which identify key activities to convert the EU into a “recycling society”. In order to achieve this objective in 2008 the European Union enacted the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) which establishes a legal framework aimed at managing the whole waste cycle from generation to disposal, focusing on waste prevention, recycling and re-use. In particular, the Framework Directive requires to Member State to reach a minimum recycling target of 50 percent by 2020 (with respect to 1990) for the overall of household waste (e.g. glass, metal, paper and plastic) while a target of 70 percent has been established for construction and demolition waste.


The EU Adaptation Strategy (adopted by the European Commission in April 2013) focuses on promoting action and providing funding to member states, climate-proofing vulnerable sectors, and addressing knowledge gaps to make better informed decisions. Adaptation actions include mainstreaming adaptation into EU sector policies and funds, including marine and inland water issues, forestry, agriculture, biodiversity, infrastructure and buildings, as well as migration and social issues. The European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) provides a toolset for adaptation planning, a project and case study database, and information on adaptation actions taken from local to regional levels. Furthermore, the Adaptation Strategy supports adaptation in cities through the Mayors Adapt initiative which aims to train stakeholders and enable an exchange of knowledge at the city level.


Member States of the EU with year of entry: Austria (1995); Belgium (1952); Bulgaria (2007); Croatia (2013); Cyprus (2004); Czech Republic (2004); Denmark (1973); Estonia (2004); Finland (1995); France (1952); Germany (1952); Greece (1981); Hungary (2004); Ireland (1973); Italy (1952); Latvia (2004); Lithuania (2004); Luxembourg (1952); Malta (2004); Netherlands (1952); Poland (2004); Portugal (1986); Romania (2007); Slovakia (2004); Slovenia (2004); Spain (1986); Sweden (1995); United Kingdom (1973-?)

International Policy

General features

  • Party to the UNFCCC (due to its characteristic of a regional economic integration organisation; Annex I)
    • Date of signature: 13 June 1992
    • Date of approval: 21 December 1993
    • Date of entry into force: 21 March 1994
  • Member of the Kyoto Protocol (8 percent reduction below 1990 levels in first commitment period from 2008 until 2012; 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels in second commitment period from 2013 until 2020)
    • Date of signature: 29 April 1998
    • Date of approval: 31 May 2002
    • Date of entry into force: 16 February 2005
    • Date of Acceptance of the Doha Amendment: —
  • Party to the Paris Agreement
  • Post 2020 action
    • Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted in advance of COP21 (Paris), on 6 March 2015 as the first Party (for more information on INDCs see here). Following the ratification and the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, the INDC has become the EU’s first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Main target: 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 1990 levels
  • Committed to provide EUR 7.2 billion for the period 2010-2012 under the Copenhagen Accord (in 2010 fast start funding of  EUR 2.2 billion was mobilised). As such, the EU is the largest contributor of climate finance according to the website of the European Commission.

Multilateral and Bilateral Cooperation

Negotiating position

The EU constitutes itself one negotiation bloc in the international climate negotiations. Thereby, it is peculiar as it always speaks solely with one voice, which sometimes requires more consultation time than in case of the other negotiation blocs. This is attributed to the fact that the climate policy is one of the “mixed competences” of the EU and the European Commission as well as the member states (see “National Policy”).

Europe was a fundamental actor in establishing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, in saving the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and in the adoption in 2007 of the Bali Road Map. When  the American government decided to withdraw from Kyoto, the EU’s diplomatic power was supposedly able to retain other countries (e.g. Russia) succeeding in making the Kyoto Protocol to come into force in 2005. It “lead by doing”, connecting what it did at home with what it advocated at the international level, for which it was much credited.

Growing internal disagreement over climate policy has grown in recent years with especially the Visegrád Group consisting of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia as well as Bulgaria and Romania challenging the frontrunner role of the EU. In addition, the decreasing relative economic importance with the rise of the emerging economies has weakened the position of the EU in the international climate negotiations. As a consequence, the EU has successfully started to take a more bridge-building role by searching for new alliances, in particular with vulnerable and poor countries as in the case of the Durban Alliance at COP17 or the High Ambition Coalition at COP21 in Paris as well as within the Cartagena Dialogue.

  • Before COP21: Achieving a global, comprehensive, operative, legally binding, and UNFCCC founded agreement. Countries would have to commit to reduce emissions according to IPCC estimates, therefore by an amount consistent with the objective of keeping global warming to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial level (see COM (2010)86)
  • Before COP21: Including in the post 2020 agreement emission from aviation, shipping and fluorinated gases as pre-existing competent organizations (International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization) have thus far been unable to deliver adequate measures.

  • Before COP21: Linking existing regional carbon markets and establishing a global carbon market → by 2015 establishing an OECD-wide carbon market, then extended by around 2020 to include the major emitting sectors in the economically more advanced developing countries.

  • After COP21: Advocating for concrete and ambitious modalities, procedures and guidelines to operationalize the Paris Agreement, including
    • Clear information requirements for the nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) such as the provision of the underlying assumptions in the NDCs and the quantification
    • Provision of disaggregate information on climate finance
    • Clear reporting requirements for transparency
    • Clear inputs and process of the global stocktake
    • → Enabling comparability of efforts in order to exert peer pressure for increasing ambition over time
  • After COP21: Flexible interpretation of the “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) principle and on differentiation
    • Flexibility emanates from the chosen NDC type (e.g. base year target, intensity target, baseline target or sectoral actions)
    • Enhanced mitigation efforts by developing countries over time in line with Art.4.4 of the Paris Agreement
    • Improved reporting and transparency over time by developing countries
    • Recognising special circumstances of the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States
  • General: High emphasis on MRV

  • General: High emphasis on multilateralism

  • General: Stress on the linkage between climate change (especially adaptation efforts) and development as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)