Supplying useful energy services (for heating and cooling our homes, cooking, illumination, transport and manufacturing) increases our everyday comfort, but it also leads to negative health and environmental impacts throughout the supply chain. The amount of energy we consume and the way in which we produce it (the energy mix) determine the type and magnitude of the pressures associated with energy use. Currently, across the EU, fossil fuels still supply most energy services, contributing to climate change and other health and environmental pressures, such as poor air quality.
While not impact free, renewable energy sources support national and EU efforts to mitigate harmful emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants linked to burning fossil fuels for energy purposes. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables helps overall to lower such pressures.
To prevent the atmosphere from warming by more than 1.5 °C, rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are necessary, starting with the energy system. The EU and the Member States have already set targets for 2020 and 2030 for the minimum share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption. The European Green Deal is an ambitious EU roadmap and a policy framework for actions to put Europe on a firm path towards sustainability by 2050. In this context, and in line with international obligations assumed under the Paris Climate Agreement, the European Climate Law enshrines the objective of enabling the EU to become climate neutral by 2050 and ups the ambition level for 2030 on climate mitigation and decarbonising the energy system.
The share of renewable energy sources in gross final energy use is a good indicator of progress towards reducing our reliance on non-renewable energy sources, notably fossil fuels, and reducing their associated health and environmental impacts.
In line with the EU’s climate commitments, the 2020 EU target to achieve a binding minimum 20 % share of renewable energy sources in its final energy use, including a 10 % share of biofuels to be achieved by all Member States in their energy use in transport (Directive 2009/28/EC), were both met. By 2030, the revised Renewable Energy Directive introduces a 32 % binding minimum target for the share of renewables in the EU gross final energy consumption (Directive 2018/2001/EU). Member States have set out national renewable energy targets for 2030 and have to ensure that national fuel suppliers will provide at least a 14 % share of renewable energy in the total energy consumed in road and rail transport.
Proposals to revise the EU’s renewable energy target for 2030 upwards were tabled in July 2021 and in May 2022, to meet the higher climate mitigation efforts agreed by the Member States for 2030 and, respectively, to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
What the data are telling us
- Over the past two decades, renewable energy consumption has increased rapidly throughout all Member States in response to dedicated policies and measures and facilitated by rapid technological progress. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions across the EU energy system have decreased steadily since 1990 and the EU has achieved its 20 % renewable energy target in 2020.
- To date, switching to renewable energy sources in transport and heating and in certain industrial applications has been more challenging than in the electricity sector, where some technologies are already cost-competitive.
- The increased use of renewable energy across the EU has brought important co-benefits, from reducing the EU’s demand for fossil fuels to climate mitigation and job creation.
- The energy supply crisis ensuing in 2021 and 2022 demands increasing the levels of ambition for 2030 and 2050 for ending the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. During this decade, renewable energy sources need to grow twice as fast across all sectors, compared with the annual pace achieved from 2005 to 2020. Deployment needs to include also industrial processes that are harder to decarbonise, such as steel or cement manufacturing.