Greenhouse gas emissions, 2010


Observations for policy

The map suggests that growth can be de-coupled from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: Between 1990 and 2010, GHG levels decreased by 10% EU-wide, while GDP grew by 40%. This means that 20 years later, the EU’s largest economies continue to grow while polluting less. At this pace, the EU can reach its 20-20-20 energy efficiency and renewable energy targets: By 2010 emissions were already 14% below the 1990 levels. The ambitious Europe 2020 goals are translated into many policy and strategy documents including Territorial Agenda 2020 and the 2014 – 2020 EU Cohesion Policy. European Structural and Investment Funds channelled through these initiatives can be particularly efficient in poorer Member States which, as the map shows, have the highest potential for GHG emissions reduction. The large-scale abolishment of heavy industry in these countries caused massive reductions in CO2 emissions. From a policy perspective, EU-wide strategic guidance and financial assistance is needed to guide their economic sectors towards less emission-intensive production techniques.

Policy context

Environmental protection and sustainability are core features of the EU’s policies, expressed through the Europe 2020 strategy which emphasises smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Part of the “sustainable growth“ objectives are the 20-20-20 targets: 20% less GHG emissions than in 1990, a 20% share of renewables in the EU’s energy consumption and a 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency. These goals were translated into objectives for the Territorial Agenda 2020 such as “managing and connecting ecological, landscape and cultural values of regions“ and especially in the EU Cohesion Policy, which prioritises the shift towards a low-carbon economy and the promotion of resource efficiency.

The EU Cohesion Policy offers more development funds for poorer regions, which is an advantage in particular for Eastern European countries. The Cohesion Fund, for instance, allocates €63.4b to countries with a gross national income per capita smaller than 90% of the EU average. This can come to the benefit of the newer member states with old and inefficient production facilities. Here, EU Funds can stimulate public and private investment in renewable energies through financial instruments. There is also potential for green growth in EU urban areas, as the 6th Cohesion report suggests, highlighting the need for green urban infrastructure such as urban parks and green roofs.

Map interpretation

The map shows that overall GHG emissions decreased in 2010 relative to 1990 levels. The sharpest reductions relative to 1990 levels were achieved in Eastern Europe, notably in Romania and the Baltic States. The gains in absolute numbers are, however, not considerable, since emissions from these countries are generally small. On the other hand, GHG emissions increased the most in Turkey and moderately in Spain and Cyprus. Europe’s largest GHG emitters, namely Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Poland slightly reduced their emissions in absolute numbers. On the whole, the Member States in Western, Northern, and Southwest Europe produced 80.6% of the emissions in 2009, only a 4.3 percentage points increase compared to 1990 levels. Given the considerable increase in GDP over the same period, European countries have managed to produce more by emitting less pollution. In recent years, this trend was partly explained by the crisis, which significantly reduced production levels in all of Europe and lead to a decrease in GHG emissions due to decreasing demand rather than environmentally friendly production techniques. Nevertheless, it is evident that most countries are following environmentally friendly development policies, with only few polluters increasing their GHG emissions relative to 1990 levels.

Large emission reductions are more evident in poorer Member States, particularly from Eastern Europe. Romania decreased its emissions by around 50% in this time period, a decrease comparable to that of Lithuania and Latvia, and close to that of Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. This can be explained by the fact that these countries’ heavy industry collapsed along with the communist regime and their economies are re-adjusting to a predominantly service-oriented overall EU economy.

Concepts and methods

The map shows greenhouse gas emissions in 1000s tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This indicator does not include emissions and removals related to land use, land use change and forestry, from international aviation and maritime transport or from biomass with energy recovery. The size of the circle indicates the volume of emissions in 2010, while the colour refers to the comparison of these emissions levels with those of 1990: the greener the circle, the larger decrease in emissions from 1990 to 2010. Green nuances indicate reductions or status quo, while red nuances indicate increases.