What is the EU doing on climate change?

Climate change is an important global issue. Without action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, global warming is likely to exceed 2°C above pre-industrialised levels, and could even be as much as 5°C by the end of the century. This would have a huge impact on the world's landscape and sea levels. 

20-20-20 targets

The EU's first package of climate and energy measures set three key objectives for 2020:

  • a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • increasing the share of renewable energy to 20%
  • making a 20% improvement in energy efficiency

These are known as the'20-20-20 targets'.

Action to tackle climate change and cut greenhouse gas emissions is therefore a priority for the EU. In particular, EU leaders have committed to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy. The EU has also set itself the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

The EU's first package of climate and energy measures was adopted in 2008 and set targets for 2020. The EU is making good progress towards these targets, but to provide more certainty for investors, an integrated framework is needed to cover up to 2030. The EU has therefore endorsed the 2030 climate and energy framework, which outlines a number of key targets and policy measures for the 2020-2030 period.

The EU and its 28 member states are signatories to both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol and the new Paris climate change agreement. 

The role of the Council

There are several issues currently under discussion in the field of climate change where the Council has an important role to play.

1. 2030 climate and energy framework

The 2030 climate and energy framework sets out a policy framework for EU climate and energy policies in the 2020-2030 period. It contains a number of measures and targets to make the EU's economy and energy system more competitive, secure and sustainable. The framework also aims to encourage investment in green technologies, which would help create jobs and strengthen Europe's competitiveness. 

2. EU ETS and its reform

The EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) was set up to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective and economically efficient way. It restricts the volume of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by certain industrial sectors. Emission allowances are capped at a level set by the EU, and companies either receive or buy individual allowances. 

The economic crisis has lowered demand for these allowances, which has contributed to the build-up of a large market surplus. To address this, the Council and the European Parliament recently adopted a decision to create a market stability reserve for the EU ETS. The market stability reserve aims to make the scheme more resilient to imbalances between supply and demand of emission allowances. It will be established in 2018 and operate from 1 January 2019 onwards.

The Commission has also presented a proposal for a broad review of the EU ETS. The aim is to ensure it remains the most efficient and cost-effective way to cut the EU's emissions during the next decade. The  proposal is also the first concrete legislative step towards implementing the EU's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% domestically by 2030.

3. International agreements on climate change

The global nature of climate change means that cooperation and action at international level is important. The EU has therefore helped to push forward international climate change negotiations. It was a key player in developing both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol and most recently the Paris Agreement on climate change.