Emission reductions in the EUDespite the EU being a major carbon polluter, it has made significant progress in cutting emissions in recent decades. EU carbon dioxide emissions fell 13 percent in 2020 to 2.54 billion metric tons. This was a 25 percent reduction when compared to 1990 levels, and a 35 percent decrease since peaking at four billion metric tons of CO2 in 1979. In April 2021, the EU set a new target of cutting CO2 emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.
One of the key drivers for the EU achieving such reductions has been the transition towards clean energy sources. This has seen emissions from electricity production fall by 620 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent since 1990. Power sector emissions are expected to continue falling as countries such as Germany phase out coal power. Many of the biggest polluters in the EU are Coal-fired power plants operating in Germany and Poland, such as the Bełchatów power plant. The reduction in power sector emissions now means transportation is the most polluting sector in the EU. This is mainly due to the increase in road transportation emissions over the past three decades. Transportation sector emissions reductions are key for the EU to achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Impact of COVID-19 on emissionsAlthough EU emissions were already in decline, the unprecedented reductions in 2020 were caused by the outbreak of COVID-19. Throughout 2020, EU member states were forced to impose strict lockdowns and restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. This had dramatic impacts on industry and travel. During peak lockdowns in April 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions in the EU fell 22 percent compared to the same month the previous year. As restrictions began to loosen in the following months, emissions started to rise again. However, by the end of the year, they remained below pre-pandemic levels.
With a lack of vehicles on the roads, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide also fell in some of Europe’s busiest cities such as Rome and Paris. This was also the case for monthly PM2.5 concentrations. PM2.5 particulate matter is a serious health concern in the EU, causing thousands of premature deaths each year.