There are four primary sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs): fuel combustion, agriculture, transport, and domestic action.
Carbon dioxide is the primary GHG emitted by human activities, accounting for 81% of all emissions in 2014 in EU countries. The United States is the largest emitter of GHGs, accounting for about 18% of total global emissions, and Europe is second, accounting for about 17% of total emissions. The European Union, which comprises 28 member states, typically negotiates its targets as a collective body.
Other gases, including methane and N2O, contributed a small share to emissions in Europe. The primary sources of GHG emissions in the EU are fuel combustion, transport, industrial processes, agriculture, waste management, and manufacturing. In Europe, CO2 and GHG emissions are increasing at an alarming rate, making it vital to reduce them.
The European Union has set ambitious emissions targets for its member states by 2020. The 2020 climate and energy package legislated a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The main GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases. Burning fossil fuels increases emissions of these gases, and the result is climate change.
In Europe, despite the high levels of GHG emissions, many countries have reached or exceeded their targets. Some countries are faring better than others. Romania and the Czech Republic were among the countries that achieved the most significant reductions in the 1990s. Portugal and Ireland, however, saw the lowest reduction in GHG emissions between 1990 and 2014 and continued to increase. This difference is also more significant in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain.
Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas and accounts for about one-quarter of global warming. Agricultural production and waste are the leading sources of methane emissions. Despite being a relatively minor contributor to global warming, methane is a potent local air pollutant and poses a severe health risk. Therefore, addressing methane emissions in Europe is crucial for meeting the 2030 climate targets, 2050 climate neutrality goals, and the EU’s zero-pollution ambition.
While carbon dioxide is the primary culprit in global warming, methane is even more potent. It has a short-lived warming effect, taking only two decades instead of hundreds of years. By mid-century, reducing methane emissions could reduce global temperatures by about 30% by 2040 and prevent the planet from warming more than 0.2 degrees Celsius. As the world’s temperatures rise, every 0.1 degree of warming will hurt human health and the environment.
The European Union has launched a new plan to reduce methane emissions in the European Union. The EU has reduced its methane emissions by 30% by 2030. The EU is the largest global importer of energy, so it is vital to reduce methane emissions. However, this will be challenging because the EU produces about 5% of the world’s methane emissions domestically. Additionally, the EU’s waste sector is the largest source of methane emissions.
Methane emissions are more than twice as significant as carbon dioxide. Moreover, a singleton of methane causes the same amount of warming as 28 tons of CO2. Methane emissions are primarily the result of human activity, but this contribution is increasing. Methane is responsible for approximately 60% of global methane emissions, and it is estimated that methane emissions are the main contributors to global warming in the near term. Consequently, reducing emissions of methane will keep temperatures below the 1.5-degree threshold.
The transport sector is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, responsible for nearly 20% of total GHG emissions in the EU. While the energy industry dominates emissions, road transport is growing faster. Road transport emissions increased by 19 percent between 1990 and 2011, while aviation and international maritime transport were the only two sectors that decreased. These sub-sectors do not count toward EU-wide targets, but they are expected to contribute more in the coming years.
The EU has a long way to cut the number of cars on the road and reduce their pollution. The European Commission recently proposed ratcheting up emission standards for new vehicles. By 2030, new vehicles would have to reduce emissions by 55%. By 2035, new gas-powered cars would be forced off the road.
The transport sector contributes a large portion of EU carbon dioxide emissions, and its emissions continue to rise. Recent EEA projections show that even if EU road transport emissions were reduced to 1990 levels, they would still contribute a substantial portion of global emissions. It is essential to keep an eye on emissions and focus on how the transport sector can play a role in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Domestic action by the Member States
The European Union has adopted rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Member States. These regulations require member states to reduce their energy consumption and use renewable energy sources. However, many EU member states do not yet have a plan for coal phase-out. While some have proposed a natural gas phase-out, others are pushing for EU co-financing of infrastructure projects for natural gas. The EU is also reviewing the Trans-European Networks for Energy Regulation (TEN-E) Regulation to determine which transboundary projects are eligible to receive EU funds.
The European Parliament has adopted a Directive (EU) 2018/2001 to promote renewable energy sources. This directive amends Directive 2003/87/EC and aims to boost cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments. In addition, the European Council adopted a Decision (EU) 2015/1814 to implement the Directive and its accompanying Regulation. The new directive is likely to be implemented by 2020, and the EU will then have a decade to reach its 2030 target.
The EU has a 2030 goal for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The target will be a net domestic reduction of 55% by 2030, including carbon sinks from land use and forestry. But this goal will be weakened by at least 2% if the EU does not incorporate the carbon sinks. The 2030 goal is based on the Paris Agreement, which requires 61-70% emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2030.
The EU needs to fight for the carbon-border policy. Increasingly, European green policies depend on international commitments by third-party nations. But Brussels must also convince other countries to follow its lead. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, introduced by the European Commission in July, has encountered strong opposition from Washington and Beijing. This is the first step in the process of international action. Brussels needs to convince other countries to adopt carbon-border policies in this context.
Restructuring of industry
To curb the emissions of greenhouse gases, the European Commission is proposing an economic system based on carbon border adjustment mechanisms (CBAMs). This radical reform would affect a wide range of sectors, including automotive, consumer goods, energy, metals, transport, and many other industries. But it’s not all bad news. The current structure is too regressive and does little to address our planet’s real issues.
The EU is implementing a “green” rulebook that will require an unprecedented restructuring of the economy towards a sustainable future. The process will create both new economic opportunities and challenges. In some cases, this transition may pave the way for developing novel, low-carbon technologies. Among them are new approaches to product design, energy efficiency, and end-of-life management. However, this change will have significant implications for exporting manufactured products to and from Europe.