As 2019 came to a close, the European Commission introduced a series of proposals to help make Europe climate neutral by 2050. Most of the targets identified in this set of strategies and action plans point to 2030 as a key reference year. So, where do member countries stand today?
Working with seven other editorial offices that are part of the European data journalism network (EDJNet), under the direction of Deutsche Welle, we reconstructed the current status of European Green Deal goals in Europe, identifying the quantifiable targets envisaged by the EU and related indicators. By doing so, we can measure the progress of each country, as well as their prospects for the near future.
The 2030 Green Deal targets
The European Green Deal is the name given to the set of strategies and action plans that the European Commission has proposed to tackle climate change. It proposes a series of directives, regulations and initiatives aimed at various sectors affected by or responsible for climate change, and envisages investments of at least one trillion euro. Resources come largely from the long-term EU budget, but there is also substantial private investment.
The plan is very ambitious, mobilising considerable resources and, precisely because of its scope, constitutes a major challenge for the coming years.
There are, however, shortcomings. As Greenpeace has pointed out, the targets set at the European level may not be enough to achieve climate neutrality. This is further complicated by the fact that the overarching goal of the green deal, besides sustainability, is economic growth. As the European Environment Agency (EEA) emphasises, growth is in fact closely linked to increases in production, consumption and resource usage, and therefore inevitably has detrimental effects on the environment and human health.
That said, even if the targets were effective enough to reduce such environmental impact, Europe does not seem to be on track to achieve those targets within the set timeframe.
To carry out this research, Deutsche Welle identified seven basic metrics, selected by sector, and corresponding to the main targets identified by the European Commission itself. The first consists of a generic indicator for emissions, measured in tonnes of Co2 equivalent. The second concerns the use of renewable energy sources and measures both its share in final consumption and the capacity of installations. Another indicator concerns buildings, in particular heat pump installations. The last three are car emissions for the transport sector, pesticide use for agriculture and hydrogen production for industry.
The indicators for heat pumps and the output of wind and solar power plants are not official, but reconstructed based on the assumption of an overall temperature change of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Data on hydrogen production are not yet available.
Emission reduction targets
One of the most problematic aspects of the human impact on the planet is the emission of greenhouse gases. These are a set of pollutants that alter the balance of ecosystems, harming those who inhabit them. Deutsche Welle has therefore identified data on overall emissions as the most significant parameter for monitoring Europe’s progress in meeting Green Deal targets.
The latest proposal put forward by the European Commission aims to reduce emissions by 57 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This would mean a total consumption of 2,000 megatons (mt) of Co2 equivalent, compared to 4,687 in 1990. According to the most recent figures for 2021, the EU has reduced its total emissions by 29.3 percent compared to 33 years ago.
According to the EEA, with current measures, the total should reach 3,109 mt in 2030. That would be one thousand mt more than the target (2,000 mt) and a decrease of just 33.7 percent from 1990 levels. Europe therefore seems to be a long way from the target.
But let’s take a look at the data disaggregated by country (available by 2020) to see how much the situation has improved in individual member states. The picture that emerges is in fact quite varied.
In all but 3 countries (Cyprus, Austria and Ireland) GHG emissions decreased between 1990 and 2020. In some cases the decline was more pronounced: in Malta it exceeded 90 percent and in Sweden it was close to 80 percent. But in the continent’s largest and most populous countries the reduction was smaller: 43% in Germany, 32% in Italy, 27% in France and just 5% in Spain.
However, it is important to stress that the 2020 figures may be misleading. This was in fact the year of Covid-19 lockdowns, during which many activities involving energy production or consumption came to a temporary halt. Overall, then, the drop is modest and far from the targets set by the European Green Deal. In fact, if we look at the variation between 1990 and 2019, instead of 2020, we see that Spain even saw an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (+14 percent) and that there are only three countries where the decrease exceeded 57 percent. These countries are Estonia, Romania and Lithuania, with reductions of over 60 percent.
Italy and European Green Deal targets
In Italy, greenhouse gas emissions are 32 percent lower