Climate Change

The European Union has cut greenhouse gas emissions in every sector - except this one

While greenhouse gas emissions are being cut across sectors in the EU, transport remains tricky to decarbonise.

Compared with 1990, greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s transport sector were up by the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020. Image: Unsplash/Marcin Jozwiak

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Change

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU fell by 32% between 1990 and 2020 across sectors including energy and manufacturing, Eurostat says.
  • But the transport sector bucked the trend, with a 7% increase in emissions over the same period.
  • The EU has committed to more than halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Emissions of greenhouse gases are falling in Europe – but not in the transport sector, new data shows.

Between 1990 and 2020, the European Union (EU) said it managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across a range of sectors by the equivalent of more than 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is a fall in emissions of 32%, says Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, which published the data.

A chart showing greenhouse gas emissions from different sectors in the EU from 1990 to 2020.
Greenhouse gas emissions from different sectors in the EU from 1990 to 2020.

Energy sector emissions fall the most

Energy industries in the EU, which has 27 member countries, have seen the biggest fall in greenhouse gas emissions of 46%. This equates to a cut of 657 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the 30-year period between 1990 and 2020.

Manufacturing and construction saw the next biggest fall in greenhouse gas emissions, of 322 million tonnes, a 44% drop.

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The third biggest fall in greenhouse gas emissions was among homes, businesses, institutions and other organizations. This sector cut emissions by 215 million tonnes – a 29% fall.

A chart showing greenhouse gas emissions from different sectors in the EU in 2020.
The transport and energy sectors are responsible for the highest greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.

Transport's greenhouse gas emissions surged

But transport in the EU, including international aviation, bucked the downwards trend in emissions.

Compared with 1990, emissions from the EU’s transport sector were up by the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020. This is an increase of 7%.

In an article on the emissions statistics, Eurostat explains that transport volumes have increased over the past decades. But the data would suggest that “fuel efficiency has not improved substantially enough to offset the increase in transport volume”.

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Road transport is the biggest emitter in the EU’s transport sector and accounts for nearly three-quarters of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, Eurostat says.

International aviation, meanwhile, saw the biggest growth in emissions between 1990 and 2020 in the EU, having doubled over this period.

The data shows a drop equivalent to more than 200 million tonnes of CO2 from the transport sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were lockdowns globally.

A chart showing greenhouse gas emissions of the transport sector in the EU from 1990 to 2020.
Road transport is the EU’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the transport sector.

Fighting climate change

The EU says it is an “ambitious contributor” to global efforts to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are caused by human activity.

The European Commission, the EU’s government, has committed to more than halving greenhouse gas emissions from the EU by 2030 and producing ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.

More than 70 countries have set net-zero targets like these, the United Nations (UN) says.

They include the biggest polluters – China, the United States, and the European Union – who account for about 76% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy sector emits about three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and holds the key to averting “the worst effects of climate change”, the UN says.

Generating energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar, instead of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas would “dramatically reduce” carbon emissions, it adds.

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