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How well are EU countries doing at meeting their UN climate goals?

People relax on deck chairs on Regent Street after it was shut as part of 'Car Free Day' in London, Britain, September 22, 2019.
People relax on deck chairs on Regent Street after it was shut as part of 'Car Free Day' in London, Britain, September 22, 2019. Copyright REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Copyright REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
By Orlando Crowcroft
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Not that well, since you ask.


World leaders are likely to make bold statements at this week's climate summit, but away from the rhetoric, how are European countries doing on tackling global warming?

They gather in New York with the events of last week fresh in their minds when millions took to the streets to protest a lack of action on climate change.

We looked at a few key indicators to find out: greenhouse gas emissions per capita; share of renewable energy in transport; and progress in reducing CO2 from new cars.

Back in 2015, United Nations member states adopted Agenda 2030, which imposed targets in various areas, including protecting the planet from environmental degradation.

It's been four years since the countries signed up to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and it is fair to say that the world has a long way to go.

Below, Euronews looks at the latest data from the 28 countries of the European Union to see how the region has performed on its SDGs since 2017.

The good news is, there is certainly some momentum behind the push to tackle climate change.

Last week, Germany announced a €50 billion package that set out a roadmap for the greening of Europe's largest economy over coming decades, including incentives to buy electric cars, surcharges for domestic flights and extra money for the national railway.

Meanwhile, 87 major companies in sectors from food to cement to telecommunications have pledged to slash their greenhouse gas emissions in a new campaign to steer multi-nationals towards a low-carbon future, organizers said on Sunday.

We Mean Business, a coalition of advocacy groups, said dozens of companies had joined the initiative in the two months leading up to the UN summit.

There are European countries among them: Swiss food company Nestle, French building materials company Saint-Gobain, and French cosmetics maker L'Oreal have all committed to slashing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050.

Greenhouse gases

The first of three specific metrics that fall under SDG13, which is titled 'Climate action', was a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per capita of 40% on 1990 levels.

While the latest data, which is from 2017, shows that emissions actually rose between 2016 and 2017 — albeit by just 0.1%, they are down 22% between 1990 and 2017 — putting the EU on track for 2030.

Sweden accounts for the lowest level of emissions in the EU - 0.1% - while Luxembourg is the highest.

Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are greyed out because of a lack of available data, and the figure related to their 2015 levels.


Renewable energy

The second of the three SDG13 metrics was renewable energy, and specifically the amount of energy used by vehicles that came from renewable sources.

The EU agreed to set a common target of 10% for the share of renewable energy — including liquid biofuels, hydrogen, biomethane, ‘green’ electricity, — in the transport sector by 2020.

There have been some big winners — in Sweden, it is 38.6% — but in other states, Croatia, Greece and Estonia the figure is as little as 2%. It has also been relatively muted in countries including Germany and the UK, both of which have massive auto industries.

Again Iceland, Norway and Switzerland's rankings rely on historical data.


More generally in terms of renewable energy take-up, the results aren't not bad: In 2017 renewable energy represented 17.5 % of energy consumed in the EU, on a path to the 2020 target of 20%.

New cars

Another metric was new cars and the amount of C02 produced by them across the bloc. This is again a crucial consideration for countries like Germany, the UK and to a lesser extent, France, with their large automotive sectors.

European carmakers have increasingly been criticised for failing to move away from petroleum and towards electric vehicles.

The EU target is for new vehicles to give off a maximum of 95g of C02 per kilometre, and although some are close — none are there yet.


In Germany, the fifth-worst emitter of C02 from new vehicles, this has been a major bone of contention, and it has been a tough balancing act for Chancellor Angela Merkel to on the one hand meet the UN's goals and on the other not alienate conservative voters in the country's manufacturing rust belt.

EU countries will be pleased with much of the data on SDG13, although challenges remain. The climate action protest movement - inspired by teenage activist Greta Thunberg has openly argued that targets are not strict enough, and pressure is building on leaders to reflect that.

When Germany's ambitious climate action plan was published on Friday, it was immediately criticised for not going far enough, prompting Germany's Greens to promise to see even bolder targets for reducing carbon emissions within Europe's biggest economy.

Meanwhile, there will be a Donald Trump-sized elephant in the room in New York next week, with the U.S. president rumoured to be skipping the climate summit.


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