The EU tackling Climate Change

By Genevieve O’Keeffe

Climate change is the most dangerous issue the world is facing and everyone will be affected unless extreme policy changes are made. As it is an issue that will directly or indirectly face all nations, it makes sense that a supranational organization such as the European Union takes an active role in promoting change.

The EU has set climate change targets in 2014 to be reached by the year 2030 encouraging all member states to achieve them. The three main targets are 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, increase renewable energy to 27% and a 27% improvement in energy efficiency.[1] Cutting greenhouse gases by 40% is in the grand scheme of having cut emissions by 80-95% in 2050.[2] Though these targets are feasible, it requires a significant amount of effort from member states. Some of the new policies to assist in reaching these targets include ‘indicators for the competitiveness and security of the energy system, such as price differences with major trading partner’ and a governance system that will create ‘competitive, secure and sustainable energy.’[3] However these EU wide targets are difficult to achieve as there is a lack of a functioning governance mechanism. The 2020 climate change targets are similar to 2030, just different percentage levels. Current data shows that the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% was likely to be achieved.[4]

The graphs above show that current EU climate change policy is working and the majority of EU members have reduced their emission of greenhouse gas. Due to this it looks possible that the 2030 targets may also be reached.

It is in all member states interest to prevent climate change as it has a negative impact on the lives of citizens. It can also affect a state’s economics. Obviously exacerbated natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, fires etc are a financial burden. It also has a major effect on food production. Agriculture is a large source of income for many European countries and for it to be seriously affected would have a devastating impact economically. Climate change would reduce the price of agricultural commodities within the EU.[5] This is important as many high-appointed people within the EU may need an economic effect to take policy action. Not only are these climate change effects severe but there is deadly risk on human health with the increase of heat/ cold related deaths and spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera.[6]

Another mechanism that the EU has introduced to combat climate challenge is the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). This program was launched in 2005 and is the largest of its kind. There is a cap on amount of gases that can be emitted in each state, companies are allowed to buy/trade emission allowances with each other. This bill has improved the ‘corporate climate activities.’[7] It has been successful with 45% of greenhouse gas emissions being covered within this scheme.  Companies in member states that work with carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons must partake in these programs.[8] The ETS has been one of the more successful EU’s policy’s and is helping with reaching targets.

Another program the European Commission introduced is the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Introduced in 2000, it has eleven working groups to cover such issues such as agriculture, energy supply, transport and emission trading. Its aim was to create new legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also aimed to ‘increase the international credibility of the EU in climate change’ and form a consensus in the EU to act on climate change. The EU is now regarded as one of the main organisations attempting to combat climate change. Some legislation was resisted but overall there was a consensus for the ECCP to succeed.[9] The second ECCP was launched in 2005 and had similar motives but researched even more cost-effective ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions further. It has other working groups covering aviation and ships.[10]

The EU and its member states work with other non-state actors such as the United Nations, and signing important treaties such as the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.[11] Though all 28-member states agree to follow EU climate change policy, some are better than others.

As seen in the graph above there is six countries who have already reached the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets. These are Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. Though some states complained that EU policy was too drastic and difficult, having six states already reach targets disproves this. Hungary was also the first EU state to sign the Paris agreement, President Janos Ader has stated he plans to continue implementing policy to combat climate change.[12] However, recent news from Germany has shown that it is unlikely they’ll be able to meet their 2020 targets. As the new German government is formed, Merkel says it’s a priority and will be reached.[13] Though countries vary on how well they are doing with the targets, this has not stopped the EU for setting out even more ambitious targets in the future according to a leaked Commission contribution. These include further cutting carbon by ‘at least 40% of 1990 levels’ and to review climate targets every five years after 2020.[14]

To conclude, the EU is making a strong effort to help combat climate change with several program and policy changes for member states. However, it is difficult to enforce these laws in all states as the EU can’t ‘punish’ them if they are unable to meet a goal. Therefore, it is now up to the member states to follow EU policy for the good of the world.



Andor, M., Frondel, M. & Sommer, S. (2016) ‘Reforming the EU emissions trading system: an alternative to the market stability reserve.’ Intereconomics, 51 (2).

Maxian Rusche, T. (2010) ‘The European Climate Change Program: An Evaluation of Stakeholder Involvement and Policy Achievments’ Energy Policy, 38 (10).

Rogge, K., Schneider, M. & Hoffmann, V. (2010) ‘The Innovation Impact of the EU Emission Trading System-Findings of company case studies in the German power sector’, Ecological Economics, 70 (3).

Shrestha, S., Ciaian, P., Himics, M. & Van Doorslaer, B. (2013) ‘Impacts of Climate Change on EU Agriculture’, Review of Agricultural and Applied Economics 2.

Online Sources

Statement by President Barroso on the 2030 Energy and Climate Framework
Accessed on 13/10/2017 at

2030 Climate & Energy Framework
Accessed on 13/10/2017 at

2030 Energy Strategy
Accessed on 13/10/2017 at

Europe 2020 Indicators (Includes Graphs)
Accessed on 13/10/2017 at

Climate Change Consequences
Accessed on 14/10/2017 at

Second European Climate Change Programme
Accessed on 15/10/2017 at

International Action on Climate Change
Accessed on 15/10/2017 at

Six EU countries have already met their 2030 climate targets (including graph)
Accessed on 15/10/2017 at

Germany miss climate targets (including graph)

Accessed on 15/10/2017 at

EU targets 60% global carbon cuts by 2050 in leaked climate plan
Accessed on 15/10/2017 at





[5] Shrestha, S., Ciaian, P., Himics, M. & Van Doorslaer, B. ‘Impacts of Climate Change on EU Agriculture


[7] Rogge, K., Schneider, M. & Hoffmann, V. ‘The Innovation Impact of the EU Emission Trading System-Findings of company case studies in the German power sector’

[8] Andor, M., Frondel, M. & Sommer, S.‘Reforming the EU emissions trading system: an alternative to the market stability reserve.’

[9] Maxien Rusche, T. ‘The European Climate Change Programme: An Evaluation of Stakeholder Involvement and Policy Achievements’








Genevieve O’Keeffe is a BA student studying politics and international relations in UCD. This blog post was completed for the module Politics and Policy of the EU.

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