European Union

Climate action

To keep climate change below dangerous levels, the international community agrees that the average global temperature must not rise more than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature. The EU is therefore working hard to:

  • cut its member countries' emissions
  • encourage other major polluters to take strong action
  • address the unavoidable impacts of a changing climate.

Targets drive green growth

Tackling climate change now can save human and economic costs in the longer term. Growing demand for clean technologies also offers opportunities to modernise Europe's economy, creating 'green' growth and jobs.

For 2020 the EU has set itself binding climate and energy goals designed to:

  • cut EU greenhouse gas emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels
  • increase to 20% the share of EU energy consumption coming from renewable sources
  • improve energy efficiency to reduce the amount of primary energy used by 20% compared with projected levels.

The EU has offered to scale up its emissions cut from 20% to 30% by 2020 if other major economies commit themselves to taking their fair share of global reduction efforts.

EU leaders agreed in October 2014 on new climate and energy targets for 2030. They include:

  • 40% cuts (at least) in greenhouse emissions compared to 1990 levels
  • 27% - minimum share of renewable energy
  • 27% - minimum improvement in energy efficiency.

In the longer term, much deeper cuts in world emissions will be needed to prevent dangerous climate change. The EU is committed to reducing its emissions by 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050 as part of a collective effort by developed countries to do likewise.

The European Commission describes the most cost-effective ways of achieving reductions on this scale in its 'Roadmap for a low-carbon economy in 2050'.

Emissions trading: reducing emissions at least cost

The Emissions Trading Scheme - the cornerstone of the EU’s climate change strategy since 2005 - is gradually bringing down emissions from industry at least cost.

The cap on emissions from energy-intensive industries (e.g. power generation, steel, cement) is lowered annually. Companies surrender allowances for each tonne of CO2 they emit - a permanent incentive to minimise emissions. There are sectors that receive some allowances free of charge, but increasingly firms must buy them at auction or on the carbon market.

Preparing for unavoidable climate change

Even if all emissions stopped today, those already in the atmosphere would continue changing the climate for decades to come. We have no choice but to adapt to climate change. The action needed includes:

  • modifying building regulations to take account of future climate conditions
  • building flood defences
  • developing drought-tolerant crops.

The Commission has set out a strategy to promote and facilitate adaptation across the EU.


Manuscript updated in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series

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