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What is the EU doing on climate change?

Combating climate change is a top priority for the EU. Europe is working hard to cut its greenhouse gas emissions substantially while encouraging other nations and regions to do likewise. At the same time, the EU is developing a strategy for adapting to the impacts of climate change that can no longer be prevented. Reining in climate change carries a cost, but doing nothing will be far more expensive in the long run. Moreover, investing in the green technologies that cut emissions will also create jobs and boost the economy.

Preventing dangerous climate change

To prevent the most severe impacts of climate change, the scientific evidence shows that the world needs to limit global warming to no more than 2ºC above the pre-industrial temperature. That is just 1.2°C above today's level.

To stay within this ceiling, we have to halt the rising trend in global greenhouse gas emissions before 2020, at least halve global emissions by the middle of this century and continue cutting them thereafter.

One goal, lots of actions!

© Hemera

The EU is showing the way forward through its strategy to fight climate change and the policies that it already implements or has proposed to the member states and the European Parliament. The European Commission services are also exploring options for preparing future proposals.

Initiatives it has taken to cut its climate emissions include:

  • Continually improving the energy efficiency of a wide array of equipment and household appliances;
  • Mandating increased use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass, and of renewable transport fuels, such as biofuels;
  • Supporting the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to trap and store CO2 emitted by power stations and other large installations;
  • Launching the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) in 2000, which has led to the adoption of a wide range of new policies and measures, including the Emissions Trading System, the EU's key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industry cost-effectively.
  • Developing a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy that strengthens Europe's resilience to climate change.

The EU at the forefront of international efforts

The European Union has long been a driving force in international negotiations that led to agreement on the two United Nations climate treaties, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The Kyoto Protocol requires the 15 countries that were EU members at the time ('EU-15') to reduce their collective emissions in the 2008-2012 period to 8% below 1990 levels. Emissions monitoring and projections show that the EU-15 is well on track to meet this target.

In 2007 EU leaders endorsed an integrated approach to climate and energy policy and committed to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy. They made a unilateral commitment that Europe would cut its emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by 2020. This commitment is being implemented through a package of binding legislation.

The EU has also offered to increase its emissions reduction to 30% by 2020, on condition that other major emitting countries in the developed and developing worlds commit to do their fair share under a future global climate agreement. This agreement should take effect at the start of 2013 when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period will have expired.

The Cancún Agreement, a balanced and substantive package of decisions adopted at the end of the UN Climate Conference in Mexico (December 2010), represents an important step on the road to building a comprehensive and legally binding framework for climate action for the period after 2012.