EU Emissions Reduction Success Stories

This blog post will examine some EU emissions reduction success stories that are often ignored because they aren’t occurring in the largest economies of the region. It will explore whether or not there is opportunity for the strategies of smaller nations like Portugal and regions within larger countries – such as Bavaria — to be applied to major economies.



In Portugal, 70% of energy production comes from renewable technologies. It has been one of the most successful countries in the world at integrating renewable power into its energy production portfolio. One of the key lessons from Portugal’s success story is that countries seeking to scale up and incorporate renewable technologies need to incorporate a diverse renewables portfolio. Hydropower provided a solid baseline at 37% of energy production and wind provided 27% of the production power. Portugal even managed to export 6% of its electricity. This has allowed Portugal to sell off a large portion of its emissions allocation credits, and ensure long term energy security by decreasing its dependence on imported fossil fuels (Romm, 2013).



Germany is facing many problems with its renewables programs; however, it is still amazing in the sense that Germany, a country not particularly well-endowed for solar and wind energy (see map A and map B on pages 26-27) has managed to build up a huge renewable energy capacity in just a few years. Moreover, rural and traditionally conservative areas, such as Bavaria, in Southern Germany, have come to embrace renewable technologies because they benefit generously from subsidy programs. This is a case where incentives have in some sense been able to overcome a rural and conservative backlash against government intervention promoting the deployment of renewables. According to an anonymous EU Official, it merits a careful case study on the conditions that allowed this success to happen. Policymakers may learn from the mistakes of the German experience and use those lessons to inform their own policymaking.


Eastern European countries in particular have enormous potential for scaling up renewable technologies. If economic barriers can be overcome, renewable technologies could easily make a large contribution toward securing Eastern European countries’ energy security.


Denmark has distinguished itself by taking some of the boldest measures toward carbon neutrality in the world. This is exemplified by its Carbon-Neutral Copenhagen 2025 strategy. This is a multifaceted strategy that includes avoid and shift transportation strategies, as well as investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy investment (Gerdes, 2013). Copenhagen is working toward this goal despite the old age of most of its building, especially in its city center. It is currently expanding its metro capacity, with the goal that every resident will be within 500 meters of a station when the system expansions are completed.

Given that Denmark is itself a small country, there are concerns about how its strategy could be employed in the larger countries of the European Union. Despite the small size of the country, the city of Copenhagen is a major metropolitan area, ranking 33rd in size on the European continent (Danmarks Statistikbank, 2013). Due to this large size, many of the strategies being employed there are applicable to most of Europe’s major metropolitan areas. Copenhagen’s buildings are not on average particularly young for the EU as well.

Success: EU as a Standard Setter and Purveyor of Best Practices

While efforts to reduce carbon emissions within the EU will prove important for reaching global targets, many of their most important contributions will occur beyond their borders. Many around the world see the EU as the standard setter for emissions reduction policy, and this is displayed by the fact that China and India are basing most of their climate policies off of EU models.

This is clearly seen in the transportation space, with the Euro IV standards as a guide. What’s distinctive about these standards is that they are far more stringent than the standards of the US, and also have fewer loopholes for Medium-Duty vehicles such as SUV’s and light trucks. For example, China is currently active in employing emissions standards, especially in cities, which are required to abide by different regulations. The regulations in cities tend to be more stringent, but both sets of emissions are based on iterations of EU standards. Their urban emissions standards mirror those of the Euro IV, however most of the country is only held to China III (mirrors Euro III) while Beijing is subject to China V regulations.

Meeting emissions standards is of some concern to China, which primarily results from a need to appeal to the European Union due to strong economic ties. Thus, China could be persuaded to reduce its emissions out of a desire to keep its cities livable and its maintain strong relations with the European Union, who thus far have been the greatest champions of stricter emissions standards. Since the EU is China’s largest trading partner, with $567 billion in annual trade, the opinions of the EU on environmental issues could prove to be highly influential in Chinese decision-making.

India, as well, has adopted the Euro IV emissions standards for light duty vehicles and heavy-duty diesel vehicles (Dieselnet, 2013). Emissions standards for LDVs have been introduced in other countries as well, and usually follow the Euro V model (ICCT, 2014). The Bharat III and China IV emissions and particulate standards emulate the effect of the Euro V and VI standards in regulating fuel efficiency, and continuing to encourage the spread of these and similar standards should remain a priority of global and country-level decision makers.

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