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Climate change statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from June 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article presents statistical data on man-made (anthropogenic) emissions of six greenhouse gases within the European Union (EU): carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6); together, these six greenhouse gases form what is known as the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases. In order to allow the global warming potential of each of the gases to be compared, the information presented has been converted to CO2-equivalents.

The article focuses only on direct environmental pressures that drive climate change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions; it does not consider the forces behind such environmental pressures (for example, increasing levels of emissions from transport), nor the impact of climate change on human activities (for example, health aspects or agriculture). For a further discussion on the driving forces behind emissions, see the article Climate change - driving forces.

Figure 1: EU-27 greenhouse gas emissions trend, 1990-2010 (Index 1990=100)
Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions and targets per country, 2010 (Index Kyoto base year=100)
Table 3: Greenhouse gas emissions by country, 2000-2010
Source: Eurostat (env_air_ind) and (env_air_gge), European Energy Agency, European Topic Centre on Air and Climate
Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions by source sector, 1990 and 2010 (percentage of total)

Main statistical findings

Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-27 stood at 4 720.9 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents in 2010. This figure marked an overall reduction of 15.4 % when compared with 1990, or some 862 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents. Figure 1 shows there was generally a downward trend to emissions during the period 1990 to 1997 (aside from a relative peak in 1996, when a cold winter led to an increase in heating requirements). From 1998 to 2004 the development of greenhouse gas emissions within the EU-27 remained relatively unchanged, thereafter falling at a modest pace through to 2008. The most obvious  deviation to this pattern concerns the sharp downturn change in 2009 when emissions fell by 7.1 % (or 354.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent) in just one year. This sharp decrease is largely attributed to the effects of the economic crisis and the reduced industrial activity. However, in 2010 an increase can be observed. The Europe 2020 Strategy, adopted in 2008, commits the EU-27 to reduce its overall emissions to at least 20 % below their 1990 levels by 2020, in line with an ambition to transform Europe into a low-carbon economy while increasing its energy security.

Carbon dioxide accounted for 82.4 % of EU-27 greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, followed by methane (8.5 %), nitrous oxide (7.1 %) and fluorinated gases (2.0 %). Fluorinated gases were the only group to record an overall increase in their volume of emissions between 1990 and 2010 (up 59.2 %); this may be attributed to the development of emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, which are increasingly used as substitutes for ozone-depleting compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) within refrigeration, air conditioning, or the manufacture of insulating foams.

Across the Member States, greenhouse gas emissions were highest in Germany (19.84 % of the EU-27 total or 936.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents in 2010), while the United Kingdom (12.50 %), France (11.07 %) and Italy (10.62 %) were the only other Member States to record double-digit shares. EU-15 Member States collectively accounted for 80.44 % of greenhouse gas emissions within the EU-27 in 2010, some 4.14 percentage points above their corresponding share in 1990. In 2010, some of the biggest decreases (over 50 %) compared to the Kyoto base year were reported for five Eastern European countries: Estonia (-52 %), Latvia (-53 %), Lithuania (-58 %), Bulgaria (-54 %) and Romania (-56 %). However, it must be borne in mind that the combined share in the EU total of those five countries is only 5 %, i.e. their huge relative reductions contribute little to the overall EU emissions. On the other side of the spectrum, the biggest increases compared with the Kyoto base year were reported for Spain (+23 %), Portugal (+17 %), Greece (+11 %) and Ireland (+10 %), altogether accounting for 12.85% of the 2010 EU total (seeTable 3). The ‘burden-sharing agreement’ between EU-15 Member States foresees that four countries (Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal) may increase their emission levels through to the end of the commitment period (2008 to 2012). 

By far the most important source of greenhouse gas emissions across the EU-27 was that of fuel combustion, which takes place in energy transformation (i.e. electricity generation), transport, and a range of industrial activities. Fuel combustion, generally falling under the sector energy in the IPCC inventory reports (see Data sources and availability), together with fugitive emissions from fuels, is responsible for nearly 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. This category was consistently the principal source of emissions throughout the period 1990 to 2010. 

The latest data available shows energy (excluding transport) with a 60.0 % share of total EU-27 greenhouse gas emissions (or 2832.3 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents). Transport (part of energy within the IPCC reporting) was the next largest contributor (19.7 % of the EU-27’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2010), and was also the source where emissions were increasing at their fastest pace – note that within the confines of Kyoto reporting (as shown here) transport is under-reported, as it excludes international air and maritime transport. Agriculture accounted for 9.8 % of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-27 in 2010. Contrary to other sources, where carbon dioxide was the principal greenhouse gas emitted, agricultural emissions are largely composed of nitrous oxide and methane. Emissions from industrial processes accounted for a slightly lower share at 7.3 %, while emissions from waste (3.0 %, which includes disposal, landfill sites and waste water treatment) and solvents and other products use (0.2 %) accounted for the remaining of the EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

Data sources and availability

Data on greenhouse gas emissions are officially reported under the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC). The Kyoto Protocol to the Convention covers legally binding commitments in relation to the reduction of the following six types of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2); methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N2O); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); perfluorocarbons (PFCs); and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Note that while chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are greenhouse gases, they are not included in the Kyoto Protocol (as they were previously covered by the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer).

Each greenhouse gas has a different capacity to cause global warming, depending on its radiative properties, molecular weight and the length of time it remains in the atmosphere. The global warming potential of each gas is defined in relation to a given weight of carbon dioxide for a set time period (for the purpose of the Kyoto Protocol a period of 100 years). GWPs are used to convert emissions of greenhouse gases to a relative measure (known as carbon dioxide equivalents: CO2-equivalents). The following weighting factors are currently used: carbon dioxide = 1, methane = 21, nitrous oxide = 310, and sulphur hexafluoride = 23 900; hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons comprise a large number of different gases that have different GWPs.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) compiles an annual greenhouse gas inventory report on behalf of the EU for submission to the United Nations. Within the inventory reporting requirements of Kyoto, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions are produced for a number of sources which are delineated primarily according to process-technologies. The five main source of the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) include:

  • energy (fuel combustion and fugitive emissions from fuels) – which also includes transport;
  • industrial processes;
  • solvent and other product use;
  • agriculture;
  • waste.

Note that the use of fuel in ships or aircraft engaged in international transport is excluded from the reporting mechanism. Information pertaining to land use changes and forestry are also reported but for the purpose of this publication these are also excluded – given that the information presented focuses on (gross) emissions, rather than emissions and removals/sinks (net emissions).


The term climate covers meteorological phenomena over a lengthy period of time, for example, trends in temperature, storm activity or rainfall. Climate change results from natural phenomena and has occurred periodically throughout history – sometimes with catastrophic effects, such as the extinction of various species during the different ice ages. Over the past two decades a growing body of scientific evidence has been established that suggests that the most recent changes in the earth’s climate have been substantially influenced by human activity, so-called anthropogenic effects.

Solar energy (heat from the sun), arrives in the earth’s atmosphere as short wavelength radiation. Some of this is reflected by the earth’s surface (especially from snow and ice covered areas) and atmosphere; however, the vast majority is absorbed, warming the planet. As the earth’s surface gains heat, it starts to emit long wavelength, infra-red radiation back into the atmosphere. Despite their relative scarcity (less than 0.1 % of the total atmosphere, which consists mostly of nitrogen and oxygen), greenhouse gases are vital to life on earth because of their ability to act like a blanket, trapping some of this infra-red radiation and preventing it from escaping back into space; without this process the temperature on the earth’s surface would be a lot colder. This layer of greenhouse gases has become thicker as a result of human activity and this process would appear to be disturbing the natural balance between incoming and outgoing radiative energy.

Substantial amounts of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions have come from the increased use of fossil fuels burned to power new machines, generate electricity and propel transport vehicles. The amount of emissions has accelerated in the last 200 years, reflecting increases in the world’s population, economic development, and increased production and consumption in a globalised economy.

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international agreement that committed industrialised nations to reduce or at least limit the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions. The Protocol was agreed in 1997, setting legally-binding targets with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries by 2008 to 2012. However, it was not until 18 November 2004 when the Russian Federation ratified the Protocol that the prescribed conditions were met and the Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.

Kyoto established different commitments for each country according to their share of global greenhouse gas emissions and economic development. Globally, developed countries (also known as Annex I parties as they are listed in Annex I to the UNFCCC) were required to reduce their collective emissions from base year levels by at least 5 % during the first commitment period (average emission levels for the period 2008 to 2012). Political negotiation and compromise resulted in different national targets: hence, while cuts of 8 % (relative to 1990 levels) were agreed for the EU-15, Switzerland and many central and eastern European countries, a number of other countries only agreed to stabilise their emission levels (New Zealand and Russia), while some countries were allowed to increase emissions (Australia and Iceland by 8 % and 10 % respectively).

The EU agreed to an 8 % reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions for the EU-15 by 2008 to 2012. The reductions for each of the EU-15 Member States were agreed under a so-called ‘burden sharing agreement’, which allowed some countries to increase emissions, provided these were offset by reductions in others. Among the EU-15 Member States these range from decreases of 28 % for Luxembourg and 21 % for Denmark and Germany, to increases of 25 % and 27 % for Greece and for Portugal. Among those Member States that joined the EU in 2004 or 2007, Cyprus and Malta are not Annex I parties and thus have no Kyoto targets, while the remaining ten Member States have their own individual reduction targets, generally set at 8 %, although for Hungary and Poland the target is 6 %, and there are also differences for some countries as regards the base year (not always 1990).

In an attempt to find alternative ways to reduce emissions, three market-based mechanisms were introduced to help countries meet their Kyoto commitments:

These initiatives seek to aid those countries for which it may be easier and/or more cost-effective to enhance carbon sinks or cut emissions abroad – rather than on their national territory, based upon the premise that the overall effect of such actions (for the atmosphere) is the same regardless of where (geographically) the action is taken. Emissions trading schemes enable developed countries to acquire assigned amount units (AAUs) from other developed countries that are more able to reduce their emissions. This form of trading allows countries that have achieved emission reductions beyond those required by the Kyoto Protocol to sell their excess reductions to other countries that are finding it more difficult or expensive to meet their commitments.

One cornerstone of the EU’s climate change strategy is the emissions trading system (ETS). The scheme covers about 12 000 factories and plants that together are responsible for about half of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Under the system, governments set limits on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to be emitted by energy-intensive industries (such as utilities and steel producers) or other industries with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions arising from their production systems such as the cement industry. If these enterprises need to emit more greenhouse gases than their permits allow, they have to buy spare permits from the marketplace.

A revised Directive 2009/29/EC to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading scheme of the EU was adopted on 6 April 2009. This is designed to achieve greater emissions reductions in energy-intensive sectors from the start of a third ETS period as of 1 January 2013. To stimulate the adoption of clean technologies, the new ETS provides that emissions permits will no longer be given to industry for free, but instead they will be auctioned. Each Member State will determine the use of its revenues from auctioning pollution permits (although at least half of the proceeds should be used to fight climate change in the EU and abroad and to alleviate the social consequences of moving towards a low-carbon economy).

The European Union has long been a driving force in international negotiations to combat climate change. In 2007 EU leaders endorsed an integrated approach to climate and energy policy and committed to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy. They made a unilateral commitment that Europe would cut its emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by 2020, today forming part of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The EU has also offered to increase its emissions reduction to 30% by 2020, on condition that other major emitting countries in the developed and developing worlds commit to do their fair share under a future global climate agreement. 

For the long term, the EU has set itself the goal of reducing its emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. The European Commission has published a Roadmap setting out how this could be achieved most cost-effectively.

See also

Further Eurostat information



Greenhouse Gases/Air Pollution (t_env_air)
Greenhouse gas emissions, Kyoto base year (source: EEA)
Urban population exposure to air pollution by particulate matter (source: EEA)
Urban population exposure to air pollution by ozone (source: EEA)
Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions (source: EEA)
Greenhouse gas emissions by sector (source: EEA)
Greenhouse gas emissions from transport (source: EEA)


Greenhouse Gases/Air Pollution (env_air)
Indicators for greenhouse gas emmissions and air pollution (source: EEA)
Air pollution (source: EEA)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions (source: EEA)

Methodology / Metadata

Other information

  • Progress towards achieving the Kyoto objectives COM(2012)626 Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council
  • Analysis of options to move beyond 20% greenhouse gas emission reductions and assessing the risk of carbon leakage COM(2010)265
  • A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050 COM(2011)112
  • Communication COM(2005)35 Winning the Battle Against Global Climate Change
  • Fact Sheet Climate change, March 2011

External links