The fight
against global warming[1] and the
reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a top priority for the European

1) Why make
it a priority?

  • The global
    average temperature is expected to increase by between 1.1ºC and 6.4ºC in the
    21st century without action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Human
    activities (the use of fossil fuels, deforestation and agriculture) are the
    source of greenhouse gas emissions. These gases trap the heat reflected off the
    surface of the Earth, which results in global warming.
  • According to
    scientific studies, the risks of irreversible and catastrophic change
    would  considerably increase if global
    warming were to exceed a 2ºC rise above pre-industrials levels.
  • The cost of
    inaction would be greater than the cost of managing climate change: at least 5%
    of global GDP (up to 20% in worst-case scenario) versus 1% of global GDP every

2) What measures does the EU take?

The EU’s first
package of climate and energy measures was adopted in 2008 and set 3 targets
for 2020 : 20-20-20 targets

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%
  • increase the share of renewable energies to 20%
  • improve energy efficiency by 20%

To ensure more
certainty for investors, the 2030 climate and energy policy framework
has been adopted. The goal is to make the EU’s economy and the energy system
more competitive, secure and sustainable and encourage investment in green
technologies. It sets 4 important targets[2]:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by
    2030 relative to 1990 levels
  • At least 27% renewable energy in energy
    consumption in 2030
  • At least 27% improvement in energy efficiency
    in 2030
  • Completion of the internal energy market by achieving
    a minimum target of 10% of electricity interconnections by 2020, and the
    objective to reach a 15% target by 2030.

3) What is the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)
and what is it for?[3]

It is a key EU
policy instrument for fighting climate change. It is based on the ‘cap and
trade’ principle : a ‘cap’ is set on the total amount of GHG emissions that can
be emitted by the more than 11 000 installations. Thus, companies can
emit a limited amount of greenhouse gases. With the system, each industrial sector
can buy emission allowances auctioned by the Member States. It means that one
installation may purchase unused credits from another facility. The goal is to
encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

With the economic crisis, there was a surplus of
quotas because of a decline in demand for these quotas. A market stability
reserve (MSR) was then created to counter imbalances between supply and demand
for allowances.

4) What are the international agreements on climate change?

The EU and the 28 Member States are signatories of 3 treaties:

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • Kyoto Protocol

The Paris agreement on climate change: it plans to limit global warming « well below » 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels[5].

Laura Van Lerberghe

[1] La lutte contre le changement climatique dans l’UE,





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