EU responses to climate change 

Climate change will affect everyone. Photo by Ezra Comeau-Jeffrey on Unsplash  

Fighting climate change is a priority for the Parliament. Below you will find details of the solutions the EU and the Parliament are working on.

Limiting global warming: a matter of 2°C increase

Average global temperatures have risen significantly since the industrial revolution and the last decade (2009–2018) was the warmest decade on record. Of the 18 warmest years, 17 have occurred since 2000.

Data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service shows that 2020 was also the warmest year on record for Europe. The majority of evidence indicates that this is due to the rise of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) produced by human activity.

The average global temperature is today 0.91-0.96°C higher than at the end of the 19th century. Scientists consider an increase of 2°C compared to pre-industrialised levels as a threshold with dangerous and catastrophic consequences for climate and the environment.

This is why the international community agrees that global warming needs to stay well below a 2°C increase.

Why is an EU response important?

According to the European Environment Agency, the EU is the world's third biggest greenhouse gases emitter after China and the US. The energy sector was responsible for 80.7% of EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. Common mitigation efforts are key as climate change affects all EU countries, even if not in the same way.

The Mediterranean region can expect more heat extremes and less rain, while countries in the continental region face higher risk of river floods and forest fires.

EU efforts are paying off. In 2008, the EU set the target to cut emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels by 2020. In June 2021, with the adoption of the EU climate law, the Parliament paved the way for other ambitious targets: a 55% reduction of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and the climate neutrality by 2050.

Check out our infographics about climate change in Europe

The EU and international climate policy

The EU is a key player in UN climate negotiations. In 2015, it ratified the Paris Agreement, the first universal agreement to combat climate change. Its goal is to mitigate climate change by maintaining the increase in global temperature at 1.5°C compared to pre-industrialised times.

Under the Paris agreement, the EU committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.In addition, the EU has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 under the European Green Deal. It has put several measures in place to reach this target.

The European Green Deal

Parliament declared a climate emergency in November 2019, calling on the Commission to align all its proposals with the target of limiting global warming to under 1.5 °C and ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.

In response, the Commission proposed the European Green Deal, a roadmap for Europe to become a climate-neutral continent by 2050. One of its objectives is a legal framework for climate: the EU Climate Law.

The EU plan for a greener and more sustainable Europe covers a wide range of sectors and includes goals such as preserving biodiversity, ensuring a healthier food system, boosting the circular economy, as well as promoting green investment and empowering industries for a green transition whilst alleviating the socio-economic impact of the transition on workers and communities.

Read more about the Green Deal

EU funding for climate

In order to finance the Green Deal, the European Commission presented in January 2020 the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, which aims to attract at least €1 trillion of public and private investment over the next decade.

Under the investment plan, the Just Transition Fund is designed to support regions and communities that are most affected by a green transition, for instance regions that are heavily dependent on coal.

The EU has introduced new rules to define what qualifies as green or sustainable activities. The aim is to encourage investment in environmentally sustainable activities and prevent funding from going to so-called greenwashing projects that claim to be environmentaly friendly, but in reality are not.

As part of the EU's budget for 2021-2027 and in line with the recovery efforts, the EU will ensure funding for agriculture, Horizon Europe, the Life programme, the Environment Action programme, the Just Transition Fund, regional and cohesion funds goes to projects in line with its climate ambitious.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions

The EU has put in place different types of mechanisms depending on the sector.

To cut emissions from power stations and industry, the EU has put into place the first major carbon market. With the Emissions Trading System (ETS), companies have to buy permits to emit CO2, so the less they pollute, the less they pay. This system covers 45% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions.

For other sectors such as construction or agriculture, reductions will be achieved through agreed national emissions targets, which are calculated, based on countries' gross domestic product per capita.

Regarding road transport, in early 2019, the European Parliament backed legislations to reduce CO2 emissions by 37.5% for new cars, 31% for vans and 30% for new trucks by 2030.

So far there have been no EU requirements for ships to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In September 2020, MEPs voted in favour of including maritime transport in the Emissions Trading System as of 2022 and of setting binding requirements for shipping companies to reduce their CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030. In April 2021, the Parliament pushed for an efficient, fair and clean maritime transport and alerted to the risk of companies moving outside the EU to avoid emissions standards, which is known as carbon leakage.

The EU also wants to use the CO2 absorption power of forests to fight climate change. In 2017 MEPs voted in favour of a regulation to prevent emissions resulting from deforestation and change of land use.

In addition, the European Commission is expected to come up with a proposal later this year for a carbon border adjustment mechanism, which would encourage companies in and outside the EU to decarbonise, by placing a carbon price on the imports of certain goods if they come from less climate ambitious countries. It is intended to avoid carbon leakage, which happens when industries move production to countries with less strict greenhouse gas emissions rules.

Find out more details about EU measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Addressing the energy challenge

In July 2020, the European Commission proposed a hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe, aiming to accelerate the development of clean hydrogen and ensuring its role as a cornerstone for a climate-neutral energy system by 2050. In a report adopted in May , MEPs said that only green hydrogen produced from renewable sources can sustainably contribute to achieving climate neutrality in the long term.

Find out the benefits and challenges of hydrogen

As part of a its efforts to reform EU legislation in line with the climate targets, including the 55% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the Commission is expected to present the Fit for 55 package. It will include the revision of legislation linked to energy efficiency, renewables, ETS, carbon border mechanism and CO₂ emissions for new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.

Discover more about EU measures to promote clean energy.