EU will beat 2020 emissions target but won't raise it without backing at COP21

The European Union is on track to beat its target reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 but any move to increase it from 20% to 30% will only be considered if matched by developed countries at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete at today's press conference. Photo: European Commission

Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete at today's press conference. Photo: European Commission

Climate Commissioner Miguel Cañete today (20 October) in Brussels launched a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). It predicted that if no additional measures were taken, the EU would beat its 2020 goal, slashing emissions by 24%. That figure would jump to 25% with the implementation of planned policy measures in member states.

But the report warned that Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and Austria would miss the 2020 target.

From 1990 to 2013, the EU dropped emissions by 19.8%. In 2014, that increased to 23%, which was partly due to an unusually warm winter, but supported the general downward trend in gas emissions.

Transport was the only sector which had increased its emissions, by 19%, over the 1990 to 2013 period.  The European Commission is considering how best to move towards the sector’s decarbonisation.

“This is a very good signal ahead of the Paris Climate Conference,” Cañete told reporters. “Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen every year in the last decade […] our policies work.”

In October last year, EU leaders agreed a 2030 target of “at least” 40% gas reductions compared to 1990 levels.

EEA director Hans Bruyninckx told reporters the EU would reach a 27% reduction by 2030, if it took no further action. Additional measures could increase that to 30%, although the calculation did not take into account the upcoming reform of the EU’s carbon emissions trading market.

Bruyninckx added that the bloc was also on target to make it 2020 targets for increasing energy efficiency and the share of renewables in the energy market to 20%.


The 40% gas commitment is the cornerstone of the bloc’s negotiating position at the UN Climate Change Conference, which aims to secure a worldwide agreement to cap global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

EU leaders agreed to add “at least” to the deal so they could revise up the target in the future. Diplomats are currently meeting in Bonn for the last round of talks before the COP21 begins on 30 November.

Cañete told reporters that the fact the EU was beating its targets would not mean the 2020 target would be revised upwards to 30%.

He said, “We have to have very clear that in order to raise the level of ambition [of the 2020 target] we will need a political decision by EU heads of state and government”.

The 2020 compromise to raise the target was dependent on other developed countries agreeing to comparable greenhouse gas emissions reductions in Paris, he said.

“That’s a stream that has to be confirmed before any decision is taken by the heads of state and government,” he added.

Cañete also pointed out that any post-2020 emission cuts would be more difficult to achieve than the 2020 goals.

Much of the low hanging fruit will have been picked and international credits to hike the targets would no longer be available.

Much more to do

Cañete said that countries had submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) before COP21. INDCs detail how far countries are prepared to go in the fight against climate change.

INDCs submitted so far would only cap global warming at three degrees above pre-industrial levels, he said.

The COP21 must deliver a long-term goal, a system of regular global stock-takes and a robust system of transparency and accountability. The framework should involve countries reporting every five years and raising their level of ambition over time, he said.

But he signalled that legally binding overarching target may not be possible. Such a deal would require US President Barack Obama to submit the pact to a hostile congress.

“We would like to have a binding agreement,” he said, “but the UN needs unanimity […] we cannot make the mistake we made in Kyoto.”

The Kyoto Protocol is an internationally binding agreement that committed countries to emissions reductions targets.

In Kyoto, there were only 35 countries and all the big emitters were outside [the agreement],” Cañete said. Kyoto only covered 13% of global emissions, while the non-binding “bottom up” approach of the INDCs covered 90%.

But, he added, there would be many binding elements to the finalised deal, including the accounting and stock-taking rule.

James Crisp,

This article first appeared on, an edie content partner


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