Climate change in Europe: facts and figures

Find out the key facts and statistics about climate change in Europe: regional impact, top emitters, the reduction of greenhouse gases and more.

Landscape of meadow field with the changing environment
What are the facts on climate change? ©AP Images/European Union 2018 - EP

Climate change is a global issue, but how is it affecting Europe? Discover facts and figures highlighting different aspects of this issue: causes, consequences and evolution.

CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas causing global warming

The best-known greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). It represented almost 80% of the volume of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU in 2021.

Other greenhouse gases are present in a smaller quantity in the atmosphere, but they may have a bigger warming effect. For example, methane accounted for 12% of the impact of EU’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.

Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, but human activity contributes to their accumulation. Others are man-made, such as fluorinated gases which are used in the industry. Their global warming potential is often several thousand times stronger than CO2.

The EU's biggest greenhouse gases emitters: countries and sectors

The EU was the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2021, after China and the United States. The EU's share in the world greenhouse gas emissions fell from 15.2% in 1990 to 7.3% in 2021.

Within the EU, the top five emitters in 2019 were Germany, France, Italy, Poland and Spain. The energy sector was responsible for 77.01% of greenhouse gases emissions in the EU in 2019, followed by agriculture (10.55%), industry (9.10%) and the waste sector (3.32%).

Evolution of the EU's greenhouses gases emissions since 1990

In 2008 the EU set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The target was fully achieved: in 2020, EU’s greenhouse gas emissions were 32% lower than in 1990.

In 2021, the EU made climate neutrality, the goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, legally binding in the EU. It set an interim target of 55% emission reduction by 2030.

A 2023 report by the European Environmental Agency said that the EU countries projected to reach a joint reduction in net emissions of 43% by 2030 with the policies and measures currently in place. The emission reduction level would go to 48% if currently planned additional measures were taken into account.

The impact of climate change on Europe

Climate change is already affecting Europe in various forms, depending on the region. It can for example lead to biodiversity loss, forest fires, decreasing crop yields and higher temperatures. It can also affect people's health. For instance, people people can die as a result of heatwaves.

Transport emissions in the EU: facts and figures

Transport is the only sector in which emissions are still higher than they were in 1990.

Transport is responsible for nearly 30% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, of which 72% comes from road transport.

CO2 emission from cars

Cars and vans produce about 15% of the EU’s CO2 emissions. With an average of 1.7 people per car in Europe, other modes of transport, such as buses, are currently a cleaner alternative. However, modern cars could be among the cleanest modes of transport if shared rather than being used for just one person.

Emissions from planes and ships

International aviation and shipping each account for less than 3.5% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, but have been the fastest growing source of emissions. Emissions from planes are projected to be up to 10 times higher in 2050 compared to 1990 while emissions from ships could increase by up to 50%.

Timeline of UN climate negotiations

The EU is a key player in UN climate change talks and has signed the Paris agreement. All EU countries are also signatories, but they coordinate their positions and set common emission reduction goals at the EU level.

More on climate change in the EU