European Commission’s Goal is to Have Reduced EU Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 55% Compared to 1990 Levels

European Commission’s Goal is to Have Reduced EU Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 55% Compared to 1990 Levels

Submitted by EU Country Manager Brittany Demogenes

Current Level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to Climate Action Network, which has been tracking climate change since 2009, the most recent data detailing EU emissions is from 2019 when the EU emitted 4159 MtCO2. Climate Action Network gathered emissions data provided by the various EU countries to provide this emissions information. Compared to 1990, when the EU emitted 5652 MtCO2, emissions in 2019 had decreased by approximately 26.4%.

2030 and 2050 Commitment Levels

The European Commission currently has two goals in place for 2030 and 2050. By 2030, the Commission’s goal is to have reduced EU greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels. Hence, by observing the EU’s 1990 levels, this means that the EU should be emitting less than or equal to 3108.6 MtCO2 by 2030. The EU’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050, which means that it aims to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Implementation Plans

To reach its goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, the EU plans to rely on three key pillars: the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), its Effort Sharing Regulation that outlines emissions targets for its Member States and its Land use, Land use change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation. The EU ETS relies upon a cap-and-trade system in which a cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by the installations covered in the system. This cap is decreased over time to ensure that total emissions fall. Installations in the system can then buy or receive emissions allowances, which they can trade with one another as needed. At the end of the year, installations must give up enough allowances to cover the amount of emissions they produce or else they have a heavy fine imposed on them. Through placing a price on carbon, the ideal goal is to promote investment in innovative low-carbon technologies, which are often funded by research programs such as the EU’s Horizon 2020.

Through the EU’s Effort-Sharing Regulation to reach its initial goal of reducing emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels, national targets were put in place that would reduce emissions in Member States by 30% compared to 2005 levels. However, to reach its more ambitious goal of 55% reduction in emissions compared to 2030 levels, the Commission has recently proposed to revise its Effort-Sharing Regulation to ensure an even greater decrease in emissions. While the EU ETS is regulated at the EU level, Effort-Starting Regulation is regulated by individual Member States, as they are responsible for brainstorming and enforcing national policies and measures to limit emissions from the sectors covered by Effort Sharing legislation (transportation, industry, buildings, etc.). The last proposed Effort Sharing regulation EU member states agreed upon in 2018 for individual member states is outlined in the table below, but as previously mentioned, this is set to be revised considering the new and more ambitious target of a 55% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels and in light of the fact that the United Kingdom is no longer part of the EU.

  Member State greenhouse gas emission reductions in 2030 in relation to their 2005 levels determined in accordance with Article 4(3)
Belgium -35%
Bulgaria 0%
Czech Republic -14%
Denmark -39%
Germany -38%
Estonia -13%
Ireland -30%
Greece -16%
Spain -36%
France -27%
Croatia -7%
Italy -33%
Cyprus -24%
Latvia -6%
Lithuania -9%
Luxembourg -40%
Hungary -7%
Malta -19%
Netherlands -36%
Austria -36%
Poland -7%
Portugal -17%
Romania -2%
Slovenia -15%
Slovakia -12%
Finland -39%
Sweden -40%
United Kingdom -37%

Finally, the EU’s LULUCF Regulation sets a binding commitment for each Member State to ensure that accounted emissions from land use are entirely compensated by an equivalent accounted removal of CO2 from the atmosphere through action in the sector. This is known as the “no debit” rule and aims to help farmers to develop climate-smart agriculture practices and foresters to recognize the climate benefits of wood products. The LULUCF Regulation is currently being monitored by an inception impact assessment. To achieve a decrease in CO2 emissions in the LULUCF sector, the EU and its member countries have agreed upon an accounting framework with capped credits (280 million tonnes of CO2 for land use is to be divided among the Member States) for Managed Forest Land between 2021-2030.

The EU has further proposed a European Climate Law, which aims to write into law the goals set out by the European Green Deal, the main one of which is for the EU to be climate neutral by 2050. The EU Climate Law includes measures to keep track of progress and adjust EU measures accordingly and ensures that EU institutions and Member States are legally bound to take proper action to guarantee that the EU is climate neutral by 2050. Through this Climate Law, progress will be reviewed every 5 years. The measures mentioned previously that will be used to help the EU reach its 2030 goal and will continue to be built upon, or adapted as necessary, in order for the EU to meet its 2050 goal. After 2030, the Commission has proposed the adoption of a 2030-2050 EU-wide trajectory for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and to measure progress and provide accountability to the public. Moreover, the Commission will be able to issue recommendations to Member States whose actions are inconsistent with the objective of climate neutrality and Member States will be required to take due account of these recommendations as well as develop and implement adaptation strategies to strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change threats.

Both goals align with the EU’s recent pledge to the Paris Agreement, which it submitted on December 17, 2020. In the EU’s official Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) it states that: “The EU and its Member States, acting jointly, are committed to a binding target of a net domestic reduction of at least 55% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990” (“Update of the NDC of the European Union and its Member States”).

However, both Climate Action Tracker (CAT), as well as numerous other individuals, are skeptical of whether the EU will actually reach these targets and question whether these targets are enough to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of reducing climate warming to 1.5°C . While EU emissions due to COVID are expected to have decreased in 2020 by 10 to 11% compared to its 2019 levels, which would mean it would have achieved a reduction of between 34-35% of its 1990 levels by 2020, emissions are expected to increase by 1-2% in 2021 as an economic rebound occurs. Additionally, CAT states that these 2030 and 2050 targets outlined by the EU are not enough to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal and that they will not even ensure that a decrease in global warming of less than 2°C occurs. To reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of a rise in global warming of less than 1.5°C, the EU would need to increase its goal to decrease emissions from 55% to 65% in 2030 compared to 1990 levels as well as fund climate action abroad according to CAT.

One key area where Climate Action Tracker points out the EU has room to improve is in its electro mobility. CAT states that the EU and its member countries are not taking full advantage of promoting a modal switch or using economic strategies such as tax differentiation and fuel switch to encourage the transport sector to switch to less carbon-intensive fuels. The EU ETS has also been heavily criticized in the past for not enforcing strict enough targets, so hopefully the EU’s upcoming review of its policies considering its increased pledge to decrease emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels will lead to more strict targets and a greater enforcement of measures of accountability. Moreover, environmental groups have pointed out that the EU’s agreement fails to tie up all member states to zero emissions by 2050, because of Poland opting out of a provisional leaders’ agreement on the target last December (Poland relies on coal for 80% of the country’s electricity). Finally, Barbara Mariani, senior policy officer for climate and energy with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said the EU’s 2030 target translated to only a 52.8% cut in actual emissions from polluting sectors, as the larger 55% figure considered emissions that could potentially be absorbed. For reference, under current measures that have not adjusted to the newly proposed 55% decrease in emissions, the EU already expects to reduce emissions by 46% by 2030. Therefore, while through speech and on paper the EU has stated that it wishes to be a leader in climate change and that it is willing to do what it takes to pursue ambitious goals, the question is whether its proposed policies will yield the results necessary to adequately protect the climate.



Raffaele Mauro Petriccione

European Commission Director-General of Climate Action

No official email listed, but:

Phone number+32 2 299 11 11

Postal address:

Directorate-General for Climate Action

European Commission

1049 Bruxelles/Brussel


Learn More Resources:

“2030 Climate & Energy Framework.” Climate Action – European Commission, 16 Feb. 2017,

Boffey, Daniel. “New EU Target to Cut Carbon Emissions by at Least 55% Disappoints Experts.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Apr. 2021,

“Effort Sharing: Member States’ Emission Targets.” Climate Action – European Commission, 16 Feb. 2017,

“EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).” Climate Action – European Commission, 16 Feb. 2017,

“EU.” EU | Climate Action Tracker, 22 Sept. 2020,

“European Climate Law.” Climate Action – European Commission, 4 Mar. 2020,

“Land Use and Forestry Regulation for 2021-2030.” Climate Action – European Commission, 16 Feb. 2017,

“Update of the NDC of the European Union and Its Member States.” European Union, 17 Dec. 2020.

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