EU decarbonisation

The European Union has set interim guidelines up to 2050, with binding targets for renewable energy adoption, greenhouse gas

reductions, and improvements to efficiency in energy use, to ensure member states are able to meet their decarbonisation obligations in time.

The EU is the world’s driving force in responsible energy transition policies. It has agreed unanimously, through a series of directives, to attempt to eliminate fossil fuels from all energy applications by at least 80% by 2050. A Europe that is 100% free of carbon could also be possibility under some scenarios. However, the 80% target is considered to be sufficiently high enough to ensure a radical series of changes are brought about.

Not only will eliminating fossil fuels create better and safer living conditions for humans, and a healthier natural environment, it will also lead to a more successful and more sustainable economy, and hedge against the liabilities the scenario of business as usual leave open. The security of energy supply, given the international

trends to less and less reliable neighbours, is an ever increasing threat to the stability and prosperity of Europe.


No region on Earth has shown more global leadership and commitment in the cause of combating climate change than the EU. In October 2009, the European Council of heads of state and government launched a policy designed around the parameter of limiting anthropogenic warming to 2°C. The objective is to reduce GHG emissions in the EU by 80-95% over 1990 by 2050. This amounts to approximately 1% less fossil fuel combustion per year for four decades.

20-20-20 vision

In 2009, the EU adopted the 20-20-20 commitment. This agreement has two binding elements: 20% reduction in GHG emissions compared to 1990, and 20% of final energy consumption would be from renewable sources. A non-binding target of 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020 over projections with business-as-usual practices.

Other and subsequent directives include: the Energy Efficiency directive (2012/27/EU), a revised Emissions Trading Directive (2009/29/EC), a new Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC), a legal framework for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) (2009/31/EC), the new Effort Sharing Decision (which covers reductions not covered by the ETS – Emissions Trading System) (No. 406/2009/EC).

Other agreements affecting the EU include the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 2012), under which the EU is committed internationally to reducing GHG emissions by 20% over 1990 during the 2nd commitment period to the protocol (2013-2020). Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 on fluorinated GHGs. Regulation (EU) No 333/2014 on CO2 emissions of passenger cars.

2035 Targets

The second stage in the decarbonisation programme of the EU is to ensure that carbon energy sources are not locked in during the 2020s. Power stations built now will still be operating in 2050, so the key to achieving close to zero carbon emissions by mid-century is to prevent carbon power stations being built to replace old stations as they go out of service.

The 2030 targets agreed by the EU in January 2014, are for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases, at least 27% of all electricity generation will be from renewable sources, and efficiency improvement of 30% over 2008. Given that Germany has already met the renewables target, there is a lobby pushing for more ambitious targets than these, fearing that too much leeway was made for the retention of fossil fuels.

EU GHG reductions to 2012

The EU-15 countries, which were involved as the EU in the 1992 UNFCCC treaty, and subsequent 1996 Kyoto Protocol, were set a target of an 8% reduction in GHGs by the end of the Kyoto 1st term, 2008-2012. By 2012, the EU-15 had collectively exceeded this target and reduced GHG emissions by 15%.

Not to be outdone, the 28 nations of the current EU have achieved a 19% reduction in GHGs. Mind you, it is easier to reduce by percentage when you start from a higher level, which the eastern European countries did.

As of January 2014, the EC (European Council) has adopted a new policy framework for climate and energy policy to 2030, generally considered an interim stage to the almost complete decarbonisation ambition by 2050. This policy has the target of 40% GHG reductions and 27% renewables (of final energy consumption), as binding targets. And a non-binding 27% compromise target for energy efficiency helps to ensure the percentage targets are meaningful as an impact on climate change.