The race to a cooler future 

An unprecedented heat wave rocked the Northern Hemisphere in June and July of 2023, with record-breaking temperatures measured across much of the Mediterranean. At the same time, Antarctica was missing a record amount of sea ice and the waters of the Atlantic were warmer than ever. Only a drastic and rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could slow global warming within about two decades.
The European Green Deal aims to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Climate neutrality means achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: Reducing emissions and offsetting remaining emissions through natural absorption by ecosystems or through emissions permanently stored in geological layers. This requires steep emission reductions while improving the capacity of soil to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. An initial milestone target has been set for 2030. By that year, the EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels. Such a reduction in such a short period of time will require profound and transformative changes in our energy systems, industrial processes, mobility, and agriculture, as well as increased carbon removal by ecosystems. These efforts must be undertaken across sectors and in all regions.

Use this interactive data story to explore EU regional trends in GHG emissions since 1990, the decoupling of growth from emissions and emissions by key sectors.

EU regions have cut greenhouse gas emissions albeit at different rates

At the EU level, the carbon footprint has steadily declined since 1990 at a rate of 0.1 tCO2eq per person per year. However, there are significant national and regional differences, and three main emission reduction pathways are emerging.
In northwestern Europe (Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden), emissions peaked well before 2000 and then gradually declined.
In most countries and regions that joined the EU in 2004 or later, emissions declined rapidly in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union (and the decline of Soviet industry) and then remained constant or increased slightly.
In the southern countries and regions, as well as in Ireland, Austria, and Finland, emissions peaked around 2005 before declining through 2021.
- Click the "i" button for map navigation tips
- Click the play button below the map to see how greenhouse gas emissions changed between 1990 and 2021.

Most regions have decoupled economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions

Despite the downward trend in GHG emissions the EU economy grew between 1990 and 2021 by 60%. The EU released in 1990 on average 600 kg CO2eq to generate goods and services worth 1000 euro. This number more than halved in 2021 to 272 kg CO2eq per 1000 euro.
The carbon intensity analysis includes emissions from goods and services exported to countries outside the EU. In contrast, the analysis does not include offshore GHG emissions embedded in imports serving consumption in the EU. The  carbon border adjustment mechanism, which will come into force on October 1, 2023, aims to put a fair price on the carbon emitted in the production of carbon intensive goods entering the internal market.
- Use the drop down menu of the graph to explore the trend of greenhouse gas emissions per person or carbon intensity in your region and compare it with the average for the EU.
-  Use the hamburger / menu to download the image / selected data

Use the two charts below to view the changing regional trends in multipe regions in 1) carbon intensity and 2) GHG emission per capita in each member state.
Charts are also available on these links to compare the national averages 1990-2021 for National carbon intensity and National GHG per capita
Use the filter (top right of chart) to filter by member state and NUTS-2 region (limit or expand the data visualised).
- View and copy paste the data captured in the chart by toggling to table view (bottom left of charts). 
-  Links to the open datasets are under the three dots (top right).

Greenhouse gas emission reductions must be accelerated to meet the 2030 target

Reducing GHG emissions by 55% relative to 1990 translates to an EU average carbon footprint of 4.6 tCO2eq per person in 2030. Achieving this level of reduction requires decreasing emissions between 2021 and 2030 three times faster than the reduction observed between 1990 and 2021. While there is a downward trend in most sectors, GHG emissions from transport continue to rise.
- Use the sector filter to change the mapped data- Select "Biggest sector" from the map menu to find out which sector contributed the most to total greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.
Click the "i" button for map navigation tips
Agriculture, shown in green on the map, was the largest contributing sector in the Irish and Danish regions. Power generation and industry (orange and purple) are the largest emitters throughout the EU. Their emissions are largely covered by the EU Emission Trading Scheme, a mechanism that limits the total emission allowances year after year. Striking are the regions in blue where transport is now the dominant source of GHG emissions. This is particularly evident in rural regions in Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany. To date, transport remains difficult to fully decarbonise. Oil and petroleum remain the most important energy source for this sector and they still represent 30% of the final energy demand in the EU.
To reverse the trend, the Commission proposed a separate emissions trading system for fuel combustion in buildings and road transport. The social climate fund will financially support vulnerable households, transport users and micro-enterprises in the transition towards sustainable mobility and energy consumption in buildings.

Bolstering mitigation options in rural regions can pave the way to achieving net zero emissions

The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change listed 37 available options whose full implementation would result in net zero emissions. The top five options could cut global GHG emissions in half: Solar energy, wind energy, replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen in industry and heavy-duty transport, preserving and restoring natural ecosystems, and sequestering carbon sequestration in agricultural soils. Rural regions in the EU have untapped potential to generate renewable energy and sequester carbon dioxide in their forests, wetlands, and agricultural soils.

What is cohesion policy doing about climate change?
For the 2021-27 period, cohesion policy funding is delivering more that EUR 118 billion investment in climate action. This represents a significant contribution to EU climate goals in line with the European Green Deal, to secure a sustainable path towards a climate neutral Europe. Read more here.
The Just Transition Fund (JTF) is one of the most striking and visible aspects of the 2021-2027 period of Cohesion policy. The JTF is part of the Just Transition Mechanism, created to make sure that no person and no region is left behind in the climate transition. Use this data story to explore the investment plans of the JTF in the EU and in specific territories.
More information and data sources

Authors: Joachim Maes, Hugo Poelman, Linde Ackermans, John Walsh
Data of publication: October 2023