Mapped: Greenhouse Gas Emissions by EU Country
Analysing the Progress Towards 2020 GHG Emission Targets
In 2007, the EU set targets for each of its member states to reduce overall pollution by 2020. One of the key goals in the 2020 climate and energy package, which was legislated in 2009, is a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases (GHG) are gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that trap the sun’s heat, and therefore warm up the planet. This effect is also known as the ‘greenhouse effect’.
The main GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases. GHGs occur naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere, but activities such as the burning of fossil fuels are increasing the levels of GHGs in the atmosphere, leading to climate change.
GreenMatch has mapped the top GHG emitters in the EU and highlighted which countries are performing well in relation to their 2020 targets, and those that are falling behind. Predictions about post-2020 GHG emissions targets are also carried out, based on each EU member state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) trends.
Based on the research, the best performing countries in relation to their 2020 targets are the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain. These three countries, out of all the best-performing countries, were requested to decrease their emission rate from 2005. Yet, they managed to decrease their emissions substantially.
Moreover, a side-by-side comparison was made of the UK’s progress in GHG emissions reduction compared to the average EU country.
The elements used to carry out this study are:
National Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Capita in the EU
This interactive map illustrates the amount of GHG emissions per capita in the EU. The lighter the colour, the lower the rate of emissions is.
The top three countries that pollute the least, are:
- Sweden - 5.5 tonnes per capita
- Malta - 5.5 tonnes per capita
- Romania - 5.9 tonnes per capita
As illustrated on the map, Sweden is doing exceptionally well when it comes to pollution per capita. In Sweden, the government makes it easy for every household to gain access to information about energy saving. All municipalities in Sweden have energy advisers to whom people can turn for help and guidance, such as switching to a different source of heating, like boilers and heat pumps.
On the other hand, the bottom three countries that pollute the most are:
- Ireland - 13.3 tonnes per capita
- Estonia - 16 tonnes per capita
- Luxembourg - 20 tonnes per capita
As the map displays pollution per capita, Luxembourg’s GHG emissions are surprisingly high in relation to their small population.
A contributing factor to the high rate of emissions could be a large number of vehicles in the country. Luxembourg has been criticised for its air quality by the European Commission on the subject.
EU Greenhouse Gas Emissions vs EU Limits for 2020
As previously stated, the EU has set goals to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020. The 2020 targets of GHG emissions dictate the maximum level of emissions an EU country is permitted to reach.
This goal translates differently for the various members' states, as the limits that have been set are based on the wealth of the individual countries.
Thus, countries with a lower GDP are permitted to emit a higher level of greenhouse gases, as their economy is dependent on activities that cause pollution. Nevertheless, less wealthy countries are still obligated to minimise their GHG emissions.
The base year for the dataset is 1990, measuring the average of all European countries. For the EU countries’ individual target limits, they were based on the GDP of each country, with the emission rates from 2005 as the calculation number. The charts below display the numbers in the index values.
Best Performing EU Countries
This interactive chart illustrates the difference between the actual emissions by the best performing EU countries in relation to the 2020 limits set by the EU.
Of the countries listed, 71% were given a higher 2020 target due to their GDP figures. The majority of the countries are well within the threshold that was set for 2020.
Greece, Spain, Italy, and the UK, in particular, are doing well. All four countries were requested to decrease their emissions from their 2005 levels due to their national wealth, and yet still managed to stay within the target limit.
- United Kingdom has a target limit of 75.3, and their result in 2017 was 62.4, which is 17.2% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
- Spain has a target limit of 138.9, and its result in 2017 was 121.8, which is 12.3% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
- Italy has a target limit of 98.2, and their result in 2017 was 84.1, which is 14.4% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
- Greece has a target limit of 126.2, and its result in 2017 was 93.6, which is 25.9% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
Malta, on the other hand, has polluted a much more substantial amount in 2005, thus their national target limit is a lot higher. In addition, their GDP is a bigger concern than the target limit of emissions, therefore they were allowed to have an increase of 5%.
Worst Performing EU Countries
This interactive chart illustrates the difference between the actual emissions by the worst-performing EU countries in relation to the 2020 limits set by the EU.
Of the countries listed, 21% were given a higher 2020 target due to their GDP. The majority of the countries listed on the graph here either have either already exceeded their 2020 targets or are on the verge of surpassing them.
The majority of the countries had moderate pollution levels in 2017, with the exception of Cyprus, which has the highest rate of GHG emissions - namely 155.7.
Estonia, Latvia, and Poland were the only countries in the worst-performing category that were allowed to have an increase in their emissions. Yet, they fared poorly because the difference between the target limit set by the EU and the actual emissions was the lowest.
- Estonia has a target limit of 52.9 and their result in 2017 was 52, which is 1.8% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
- Latvia has a target limit of 51.1 and their result in 2017 was 44.3, which is 13.4% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
- Poland has a target limit of 97 and its result in 2017 was 87.7, which is 9.6% below the proposed threshold for 2020.
On the other hand, countries like Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Cyprus, and Luxembourg were requested to reduce their emission rates based on their 2005 levels, yet exceeded their 2020 target limits already by 2017. If they do not reduce their emissions by 2020, they have a risk of not fulfilling EU targets.
Overall, this chart showcases a bad trajectory for these countries, therefore they may not be able to adhere to the target limit set by the EU if such negative progression continues.
Emission Predictions Based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Knowing that national emission reduction targets were set according to the GDP of each individual EU country, we designed the economic forecast table of the EU.
This table clarifies that the lower GDP per capita, the more a country is allowed to pollute. On the other hand, countries that have higher GDP per capita are required to lower their emissions.
This table displays the forecast for the overall average growth of the GDP from 2017 to 2020. Alongside that, the real GDP per capita from 2018 and the national GHG emission targets for each European country are displayed, as well as the average result of all 28 EU countries.
Based on each country’s annual GDP growth, we can assess which nations could be given a more demanding limit (e.g. decreasing emissions by up to 20%) after the next set of energy and climate targets are established under the “Effort-sharing decision”.
UK vs. EU: Comparing GHG Emission Development
The UK has done a lot to reduce its emissions, as evidenced by the decrease in GHG emissions in total compared to the average EU country. The UK has the second-highest GDP percentage share in Europe, therefore, it is important to discuss the relationship between the UK and EU.
The interactive line chart below demonstrates a comparison between the UK and the EU in terms of greenhouse gas emission development. The data illustrates the index numbers of GHG emissions, from 1990 to 2017.
From the baseline year of 1990 until 1997, the EU had better results in reducing the total GHG compared to the UK.
From 1997 to 1999 both, the UK and the EU had similar progress from an index of 94.7 to around 92. However, from the year 1999 to 2017, the UK saw much greater development in reducing GHG emissions than the EU average did.
The UK’s 2020 target set by the EU was a 16% decrease in GHG emissions compared to its 2005 levels. In other words, the UK has to reduce its 89.7 index score to 75.3 by 2020.
The target for the EU as a hole, on the other hand, stayed the same: a reduction of 20% compared to the base year of 1990.
Looking at the latest reports, it is clear that the UK made more significant progress, having their index at 62.4 compared to the EU, which is at 78.3.
How to Minimise Greenhouse Gas Emissions
It is not only up to the governments and companies of a country to ensure that GHG emissions are lowered. Households can also act to reduce GHG emissions, which will positively contribute to the overall situation.
In addition to recycling and being mindful of doing anything unsustainable, changing your domestic energy source can make a huge difference.
Investing in renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to lower your carbon footprint and contribute to a greener planet. For example, sustainable households with solar panels or heat pumps are great home improvements you can make, and will help combat excessive burning of fossil fuels, and consequently, help limit the effects of climate change.
For the data research, quantitative data that were available on Eurostat’s website were analysed. For some countries, qualitative data were also assessed in order to gain an explanation of why some countries might pollute more than others.
A dataset published by Eurostat in 2019 was analysed to establish the total GHG emissions per capita. The years analysed were from 1990-2017, and the metric ‘tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per capita’ was used.
It is important to note that in Eurostat’s figures, some countries’ data featured a break in time series and provisional variables.
The same dataset from Eurostat was used to make a comparison of GHG pollution levels between all European countries in 2017, the GHGs were measured in CO2 equivalent, abbreviated as CO2-eq.
CO2-eq is a metric measure used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases on the basis of their global warming potential (GWP). Meaning that CO2-eq abbreviation converts amounts of all the other greenhouse gases to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide with the same global warming potential.
The carbon dioxide equivalent for a gas is derived by multiplying tonnes of the gas by the associated GWP:
MMTCDE = (million metric tonnes of a gas) x (GWP of the gas)
In addition to the column that illustrates GHG emissions in CO2 equivalent, we included another column that indicates a national pollution reduction target for 2020 from Eurostat for which some calculations had to be made. To calculate the limits proposed by the EU, we looked at Eurostat’s website that showcased a percentage change for all the countries. The percentage change would be a 20% cut in emissions for the countries with the highest amount of national wealth and an increase of a maximum of 20% for the countries with the least amount of wealth.
The percentage of changes were changed into decimal numbers and multiplied by the number of emissions from 2005. After that, the number was added to the original number from 2005, if it is an increase or subtracted if it is a decrease.
- United Kingdom (decrease by 16%) from the base year of 2005 (89.7):
- 16% = 0.16
- 0.16 × 89.7 = 14.4
- 89.7 - 14.4 = 75.3 (Deduct since it is a percentage decrease)
- Croatia (increase by 11%) from the base year of 2005 (93.6)
- 11% = 0.11
- 0.11 × 93.6 = 10.3
- 93.6 + 10.3 = 103.9 (Add since it is a percentage increase)
All of the 28 European countries have been divided into two groups equally: the best and the worst-performing countries based on the difference between their individual 2020 target limit and the 2017 result.
Additionally, the average result of all 28 EU countries was added to both graphs that illustrate the best and the worst-performing countries.
As a country’s wealth was a major factor when the EU GHG emission limits were set, we had to look at each individual country’s GDP in multiple units of measure. Thus, a table showcasing an average GDP growth from 2017 to 2020, and the GDP per capita for each European country was created.
Furthermore, the same percentage change of the emission reduction targets for 2020 from Eurostat were added to see a more direct correlation between the targets and the GDP per capita of each EU country.
In addition, the GDP growth from 2017 to 2020 could give a better idea of the change in future target limits for greenhouse gas emissions set by the EU.