Greenhouse Gases

A greenhouse gas is any gaseous compound in the atmosphere that is capable of absorbing infrared radiation, thereby trapping and holding heat in the atmosphere. Many greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), water vapor, and nitrous oxide (N2O), while others are synthetic. Those that are man-made include the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and Perfluorocarbons (PFCs), as well as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Carbon dioxide which is considered the main greenhouse gas can both of both natural origin (aerobic respiration)  and of anthropogenic origin (combustion of fossil fuels). 

New EU strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

This new strategy sets out how the EU can adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and become climate resilient by 2050. The Strategy has four principle objectives:

  • To make adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, and to step up international action on adaptation to climate change.
  • To achieve smarter adaptation, the strategy proposes actions that push the frontiers of knowledge on adaptation so that more and better data can be gathered on climate-related risks and losses, and enhance Climate-ADAPT as the European platform for adaptation knowledge.
  • To adapt more quickly and comprehensively the strategy focuses on developing and rolling out adaptation solutions to help reduce climate-related risk, increase climate protection and safeguard the availability of fresh water.
  • To achieve a more systematic adaptation the Commission will support the further development and implementation of adaptation strategies and plans at all levels of governance with three cross-cutting priorities: 1) integrating adaptation into macro-fiscal policy; 2) nature-based solutions for adaptation; 3) local adaptation action.
  • To step up international action on adaptation to climate change the EU will increase support for international climate resilience and preparedness through the provision of resources, by prioritising action and increasing effectiveness, through the scaling up of international finance and through stronger global engagement and exchanges on adaptation.

European ‘Climate Law’

The  proposal for the first European Climate Law aims to write into law the goal set out in the Green Deal – for Europe’s economy and society to become climate-neutral by 2050. This means achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions for EU countries as a whole, mainly by cutting emissions, investing in green technologies and protecting the natural environment. The law aims to ensure that all EU policies contribute to this goal and all sectors of the economy and society play their part. Objectives:

  • Set the long-term direction of travel for meeting the 2050 climate-neutrality objective through all policies, in a socially-fair and cost-efficient manner
  • Create a system for monitoring progress and take further action if needed
  • Provide predictability for investors and other economic actors
  • Ensure that the transition to climate neutrality is irreversible

With the European Climate Law, the Commission proposes a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The EU Institutions and the Member States are bound to take the necessary measures at EU and national level to meet the target, taking into account the importance of promoting fairness and solidarity among Member States.

Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism

The EU plans to introduce a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to tackle carbon leakage more effectively. This phenomenon corresponds to an increase in emissions in the rest of the world as a result of the implementation of more ambitious climate policies, such as carbon pricing, by some countries. A CBAM will enhance the effectiveness of European climate policies, and needs to address legal, technical, economic and political challenges to do so. Under this mechanism, EU carbon pricing would apply to imported goods in the same way as for emission-intensive goods produced in the EU. The aim is to tackle carbon leakage more effectively than existing instruments, within a framework compatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Carbon Neutrality

Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can be done by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal (often through carbon sequestration by carbon sinks or through carbon offsetting) or by eliminating emissions from society (the transition to the “post-carbon economy“).

Carbon Offsetting

Another way to reduce emissions and to pursue carbon neutrality is to offset emissions made in one sector by reducing them somewhere else. This can be done through investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency or other clean, low-carbon technologies. The EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) is an example of a carbon offsetting system.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in carbon sinks (plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean). Carbon sequestration occurs both naturally (carbon sinks) and as a result of anthropogenic activities (e.g. carbon-capture-and-storage process)

Carbon Sink

Carbon sink is any system that absorbs more carbon than it emits. The main natural carbon sinks are soil, forests and oceans. According to estimates, natural sinks remove between 9.5 and 11 Gt of CO2 per year. Annual global CO2emissions reached 38.0 Gt in 2019. To date, no artificial carbon sinks are able to remove carbon from the atmosphere on the necessary scale to fight global warming. The carbon stored in natural sinks such as forests is released into the atmosphere through forest fires, changes in land use or logging. 

Carbon-capture-and-storage process

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) before it is released into the atmosphere. The technology can capture up to 90% of CO2 released by burning fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes such as cement production. CO2 can be captured using different methods. The main ones are: post-combustion, pre-combustion and oxyfuel. Post-combustion technology removes CO2 from the flue gases that result from burning fossil fuels. Pre-combustion methods – carried out before burning the fossil fuel – involve converting the fuel into a mixture of hydrogen and CO2. Oxyfuel technology produces CO2 and steam by burning fossil fuels with almost pure oxygen. Post-combustion and oxyfuel equipment can be fitted to new plants or retrofitted – i.e.  added to existing power plants that were originally built without it. 

EU’s emissions trading system (ETS)

The EU ETS is a cornerstone of the EU’s policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. It is the world’s first major carbon market and remains the biggest one. The EU Emissions Trading System: operates in all EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (EEA-EFTA states), limits emissions from around 10,000 installations in the power sector and manufacturing industry, as well as airlines operating between these countries and covers around 40% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The EU ETS works on the ‘cap and trade’ principle. A cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by the installations covered by the system. The cap is reduced over time so that total emissions fall. Within the cap, installations buy or receive emissions allowances, which they can trade with one another as needed. The limit on the total number of allowances available ensures that they have a value. After each year, an installation must surrender enough allowances to cover fully its emissions, otherwise heavy fines are imposed. If an installation reduces its emissions, it can keep the spare allowances to cover its future needs or else sell them to another installation that is short of allowances. Trading brings flexibility that ensures emissions are cut where it costs least to do so. A robust carbon price also promotes investment in innovative, low-carbon technologies.

Carbon Leakage

Carbon leakage refers to the situation that may occur if, for reasons of costs related to climate policies, businesses were to transfer production to other countries with laxer emission constraints. This could lead to an increase in their total emissions. The risk of carbon leakage may be higher in certain energy-intensive industries.

European Climate Pact

The European Climate Pact is an EU-wide initiative inviting people, communities and organisations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe. The Pact is an EU-wide initiative that invites people, communities and organisations to:

  • Connect and share knowledge
  • Learn about climate change
  • Develop, implement and scale up solutions

As an open and inclusive initiative, the Pact will evolve and grow thanks to the creativity, needs and ideas of those becoming part of it. The Climate Pact provides a space for people across all walks of life to connect and collectively develop and implement climate solutions, big and small. By sharing ideas and best practices, we can multiply their impact. The Pact will focus on spreading awareness and supporting action.