European Environment Agency (EEA)

Climate change and a European low-carbon energy system

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Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)


This report presents an assessment of possible greenhouse gas emission reduction pathways made feasible by global action and a transition to a low-carbon energy system in Europe by 2030. It analyses trends and projections for emissions of greenhouse gases and the development of underlying trends in the energy sector. It also describes the actions that could bring about the transition to a low-carbon energy system in the most cost-effective way.

Key messages

  • Many changes in climate, and the impacts of these changes, are already visible globally and in Europe, and these are projected to become more pronounced. In Europe, the Arctic region, mountain regions, coastal zones, wetlands and the Mediterranean region are particularly vulnerable.
  • Limiting global mean temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels (the EU target) would lead to the avoidance of many, but not all, adverse effects globally and in Europe. Adaptation strategies, in addition to mitigation strategies, are required at European, national, regional and local levels.
  • In the long term (after 2100), achieving the 2 °C target would require atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration levels of well below 550 ppm CO2-equivalent (broadly consistent with 450 ppm of CO2 alone).
  • For the analyses in this report, the 2 °C target has been translated into stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations at a level of 550 ppm CO2-equivalent. This would require global emissions to be limited to an increase of 35 % above the 1990 level by 2020 and then decrease to 15 % below the 1990 level by 2050. However, to reduce the risk of overshooting the 2 °C target, recent scientific insight has shown that global emissions should possibly be reduced by 50 % by 2050. The range mentioned by the EU Environment Council of March 2005 is a decrease to 15–50 % below the 1990 level by 2050. Further research is needed to better quantify the required global emission reductions.
  • The EU Environment Council has not yet fixed emission reduction targets for the EU, since these will be negotiated in future. However, the EU Environment Council, concluded that to achieve
    stabilisation in an equitable manner, developed countries should reduce emissions to about 15–30 % below the base year (1990) level by 2020 and to 60–80 % below by 2050. This report analyses assumed EU emission reduction targets of 20 % below the 1990 level by 2020, 40 % below by 2030 and 65 % by 2050.
  • The climate action scenario shows that by domestic actions alone, based on a carbon permit price of EUR 65/t CO2, the EU could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 16–25 % below the 1990 level by 2030. Thus a substantial share of the reductions needed to achieve the assumed target of 40 % by 2030 could be achieved by actions inside the EU, with international emissions trading providing the remaining reductions.
  • Substantial low-cost emission reductions are projected in the climate action scenario for nitrous oxide and methane emissions from industry, waste management and agriculture. However these options will have been almost fully exploited by 2030.
  • In the climate action scenario, substantial changes in the EU energy system are projected, leading to energyrelated emissions of CO2 (the most important greenhouse gas) in 2030 that are 11 % below the 1990 level, compared with 14 % above in the baseline scenario. The baseline scenario assumes modestly optimistic economic growth with a diverse development of the European energy system. Larger domestic emission reductions would lead to increasing marginal abatement costs, for example a reduction to 21 % below 1990 levels would require the permit price to more than double by 2030.
  • Reductions in the energy intensity of the economy are expected to account for almost half of the emission reduction in 2010. Towards 2030, their contribution will decrease, requiring a shift of effort to further long-term changes in fuel mix, mostly in the power generation sector.
  • Towards 2030 more than 70 % of the CO2 emission reductions (in the climate action scenario compared with the baseline) are expected to be realised in the power generation sector, mostly as a result of a shift to low or non-carbon fuels.
  • The use of solid fuels is projected to decline substantially and of natural gas to increase rapidly. Renewable energy (mainly wind power and biomass use) shows the largest increase of all primary
    energy sources (42 % higher than in the baseline). Combined heat and power will increase its share of electricity production.
  • The report analysed various climate action variants, including a higher share of renewables and a higher and lower share of nuclear power, and the largest emission reductions are expected in a scenario that assumes a high share of renewables in addition to a carbon permit price. Carbon capture and storage has not been part of the detailed European model analysis. Other scenarios, however, show that this could help to reduce CO2 emissions considerably towards 2030
    and serve as a transition technology towards a low-carbon energy system.
  • Considerable reductions in CO2 emissions are projected for the industry, services and household sectors, mainly from fuel switch in industry and efficiency improvements in heating, electrical appliances and lighting. CO2 emissions from transport are projected to continue to grow in all climate action scenario variants (to 25–58 % above the 1990 level by 2030), because of the steady increase in passenger and freight demand.
  • Achieving a low-carbon energy system requires further measures in addition to a carbon price, including the removal of potentially environmentally harmful subsidies, setting targets for renewables, and energy efficiency and increases in research and development and awareness-raising.
  • The additional annual costs of the climate action scenario compared with the baseline scenario are projected to be about EUR 100 billion by 2030. This would represent about 0.6 % of EU GDP, which is projected to double between 2000 and 2030. For the industrial sector, the additional costs by 2030 represent on average about 1.6 % of the value added by the sector, with different costs for subsectors. For the services sector, the additional costs by 2030 represent about 0.2 % of the value added by the sector. For households, the additional costs by 2030 would be relatively small, about EUR 110–120 per household, compared with an increase in energy costs, under baseline assumptions, of EUR 1 900/ household in the EU-15 and EUR 3 400 in the EU-10 by 2030.
  • A low-carbon energy system is expected to result in additional benefits, including ancillary environmental benefits, enhanced security of supply, and potential beneficial effects for employment. The EEA will publish a report on ancillary benefits for air quality.

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