The EU climate target: What's in the numbers?

This policy brief looks at the different considerations in setting the level of the EU 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target. 

The EU is in the process of revising its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target. 50, 55, 60, 65% – various stakeholders from the Member States and EU institutions to civil society have put forth differing thresholds for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

Key findings

  • The UNEP Gap Report for 2019 calculated that to meet the Paris Agreement goal of holding the temperature rise to 1.5°C, global emissions need to be cut by 7.6% annually until 2030, and by 2.7% to keep below 2°C1. Applying this specific global logic in a narrow sense to the EU, IEEP has calculated that this would result in roughly a 70% cut by 2030 for the 1.5°C goal2.
  • The EU-28 is responsible for about 22% of all historical GHG emissions3 while representing below 7% of the global population4. It also has better capacity than most countries to implement climate mitigation and adaptation policies. So, a higher goal would arguably be more consistent with a fair distribution of the burden globally, and the present pace of emissions cuts is not consistent with most fair share calculations5.
  • There are significantly higher risks and damages associated with every increment of higher global warming, and global emissions continue to rise and have not even begun to fall, let alone at the rates envisioned by the UNEP Gap Report.
  • It can be argued that the most important thing is not the specific target chosen, but rather to ensure that there is a rapid “ratchet” mechanism to increase ambition periodically, in line with progress and science, while focusing attention on the means of implementation.
  • Whatever approach is taken, now is the time for rapid, ambitious climate action. We have the technology and the political instruments to begin rapid decarbonisation.
  • There is no reason to see higher targets as a threat to jobs; quite the contrary, targeted climate spending could be the stimulus measure needed coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more details on setting the target, see the full policy brief. 

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1. UN Environment Program (2019), Emissions Gap Report 2019.

2. Based on EU-28 emission of 4392 MtCO2e in 2018. See EEA report on Trends and drivers of EU greenhouse gas emissions 2020

3. Ritchie, H. (2019), "Who has contributed most to global CO2 emission?", Our World in Data. 

4. European Parliamentary Research Service Blog (2019), EU-28 and World Population.

5. Robiou du Pont, Y., Jeffery, M., Gütschow, J. et al. (2016), "Equitable Mitigation to achieve the Paris Agreement Goals", Nature Climate Change, 7, 38-43. 

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