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EU recorded historic reduction in emissions in 2020 according to new data

The overall reduction in the EU’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions was 34 per cent compared to the 1990 base year, or 1.94 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The 2020 reduction was the largest in the EU since 1990 and total greenhouse gas emissions reached their lowest level since 1990 according to the official EU data that the European Environment Agency (EEA) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The European Union continued to record substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions in 2020, posting an 11 per cent drop compared to 2019. The data confirms a 30-year downward trend which led to the EU overshooting its 2020 target to reduce emissions by 20 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

The EU had already reduced its emissions by 26 per cent in 2019 and had achieved its 20 per cent target before the pandemic lockdowns started to impact emission levels.

EU-27, Iceland and the UK (EU-KP) GHG emissions (excl. LULUCF) Source: EEA

Key drivers that led to emission reductions over the past three decades include the growing use of renewables, the use of less carbon-intensive fossil fuels and improvements in energy efficiency, structural changes in the economy, and lower demand for heating due to warmer winters in Europe. The effect of the 2020 economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 lockdowns also had a substantial impact on reducing emissions in 2020.

An important note is, that all sectors reduced emissions except for transport and refrigeration and air conditioning (although the latter have been decreasing in the last few years). Reductions were largest for manufacturing industries and construction, electricity and heat production, iron and steel production (including energy-related emissions) and residential combustion.

Several policies (both EU and country-specific) contributed to the overall greenhouse gas emission reductions, including key agricultural and environmental policies in the 1990s and climate and energy policies in the past 15 years since 2005.

Almost all EU Member States reduced emissions compared to 1990 and contributed to the overall positive EU performance. The UK and Germany accounted for 47 per cent of the total net reductions over the past 30 years.

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