Post-2020 EU low carbon framework
European Union Carbon Market Glossary


The key indications for the European Union post-2020 low carbon framework are set out in the European Council Conclusions of 23/24 October 2014 (EUCO 169/14). Among main points are:


GHG emissions reduction target 


The European Council endorsed a binding EU target of an at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.


To that end:


- the target will be delivered collectively by the EU in the most cost-effective manner possible, with the reductions in the EU ETS (European Union Emission Trading System) and non-ETS sectors amounting to 43% and 30% by 2030 compared to 2005, respectively;


- all Member States will participate in this effort, balancing considerations of fairness and solidarity.




European Council conclusions of October 2014 acknowledge a well-functioning, reformed Emissions Trading System (ETS) with an instrument to stabilise the market will be the main European instrument to achieve the above-mentioned target.


The annual factor to reduce the cap on the maximum permitted emissions will be changed from 1.74% to 2.2% from 2021 onwards.


Free allocation will not expire; existing measures will continue after 2020 to prevent the risk of carbon leakage due to climate policy, as long as no comparable efforts are undertaken in other major economies, with the objective of providing appropriate levels of support for sectors at risk of losing international competitiveness.


The decision by the European Council to preserve the free allocation regime beyond 2020 can be assessed as a strategic one, but it can be  also expected this decision will be kept under review in the coming decade (see Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, The Road from Paris: assessing the implications of the Paris Agreement and accompanying the proposal for a Council decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Paris agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2.3.2016 COM(2016) 110 final, p. 7).


The benchmarks for free allocations will be periodically reviewed in line with technological progress in the respective industry sectors. Both direct and indirect carbon costs will be taken into account, in line with the EU state aid rules so as to ensure a level-playing field. In order to maintain international competitiveness, the most efficient installations in these sectors should not face undue carbon costs leading to carbon leakage.


Future allocations will ensure better alignment with changing production levels in different sectors. At the same time, incentives for industry to innovate will be fully preserved and administrative complexity will not be increased. The consideration to ensure affordable energy prices and avoid windfall profits will be taken into account. Member States with a GDP per capita below 60% of the EU average may opt to continue to give free allowances to the energy sector up to 2030.


The maximum amount handed out for free after 2020 is intended to be no more than 40% of the allowances allocated for auctioning to the Member States using this option. The current modalities, including transparency, are intended to be improved to ensure that the funds are used to promote real investments modernising the energy sector, while avoiding distortions of the internal energy market.


Pursuant to the Detailed questions and answers on the proposal to revise the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) of 15 July 2015, (p. 3) the European Commission proposes that allocation decisions beyond 2020 are made for a period of 5 years.

In phase 3 (2013-2020) the allocation decisions have been made for 8 years. This shorter period allows the use of more recent production data.


The system will also be more flexible in taking into account production decreases or increases during the trading period. In phase 3 installations could only receive more free allowances, if production increases were the result of adding capacity of an installation. Beyond 2020 free allowances would also be provided for increases of production without adding capacity. This is particularly beneficial for growing installations and sectors which have idle capacity as a result of the prolonged economic crisis.


Existing NER300 facility will be renewed, including for carbon capture and storage and renewables, with the scope extended to low carbon innovation in industrial sectors and the initial endowment increased to 400 million allowances (NER400). Investment projects in all Member States, including small-scale projects, will be eligible.


A new reserve of 2% of the EU ETS allowances will be set aside to address particularly high additional investment needs in low income Member States (GDP per capita1 below 60% of the EU average). It will have the following characteristics:

– the proceeds from the reserve will be used to improve energy efficiency and to modernise the energy systems of these Member States, so as to provide their citizens with cleaner, secure and affordable energy;

– the use of the funds will be fully transparent;

– allowances from the reserve will be auctioned according to the same principles and modalities as for other allowances;

– the reserve will serve to establish a fund which will be managed by the beneficiary Member States, with the involvement of the EIB in the selection of projects. Simplified arrangements for small-scale projects will be ensured. Until 31 December 2030 the distribution of funds will be based on the combination of a 50% share of verified emissions and a 50% share of GDP criteria, but the basis on which projects are selected will be reviewed by the end of 2024.


For the purposes of solidarity, growth and interconnections, 10% of the EU ETS allowances to be auctioned by the Member States will be distributed among those countries whose GDP per capita did not exceed 90% of the EU average (in 2013).


The rest of allowances will be distributed among all Member States on the basis of verified emissions, without reducing the share of allowances to be auctioned.


Questions and answers on the proposal to revise the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) of 15 July 2015 (p. 2) confirm, the basic EU ETS architecture will remain in place after 2020, while individual elements will be improved in line with the agreement reached by EU leaders in October 2014:


- Benchmark values will be updated to capture technological progress in the different sectors. Current values are determined based on data from 2007-2008 and would not reflect the state of technology after 2020.

- Production data - the system will be more flexible by better taking into account production increases or decreases and adjusting the amount of free allocation accordingly. A specific number of free allowances will be set aside for new and growing installations.


- Carbon leakage – as currently, beyond 2020 all major industrial sectors will be considered at risk of carbon leakage.


- Indirect carbon costs – Member States are encouraged to use auction revenue to provide compensation in line with state aid rules.


The aforementioned Detailed questions and answers on the proposal to revise the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) of 15 July 2015 (p. 5) elaborate in more detail on the auctioning issue. The European Council agreed that the share of allowances to be auctioned under the EU ETS post-2020 should not be reduced. The EU ETS Directive will fix the auction share at the level of 57 %. The auction share comprises allowances auctioned by Member States. This includes the regular auction volume, including the 10 % auction volume re-distributed for solidarity purposes, as well as allowances auctioned for the Modernisation Fund.


In phase 3 the auction share was only known with much delay after a number of technical implementing steps have been taken. The European Commission argues, fixing the auction share in legislation has considerable positive impacts on transparency, predictability and the functioning of the carbon market. It will enhance planning certainty of investment decisions and transparency for market participants inside and outside the system, as well as for the wider public. It will render the EU ETS simpler and more transparent.


The rules for auctioning remain largely unaffected by the proposed revisions.


Allowances from the current trading period will be valid beyond 2020. The fourth trading period will run from 2021 to 2030 (the aforementioned Detailed questions and answers, p. 8).


Non-ETS sectors


The methodology to set the national reduction targets for the non-ETS sectors, with all the elements as applied in the Effort Sharing Decision for 2020, will be continued until 2030, with efforts distributed on the basis of relative GDP per capita. All Member States will contribute to the overall EU reduction in 2030 with the targets spanning from 0% to -40% compared to 2005.


Targets for the Member States with a GDP per capita above the EU average will be relatively adjusted to reflect cost-effectiveness in a fair and balanced manner.


The European Council conclusions of October 2014 envisioned a new flexibility in achieving targets - for Member States with national reduction targets significantly above both the EU average and their cost effective reduction potential as well as for Member States that did not have free allocation for industrial installations in 2013 - through a limited, one-off, reduction of the ETS allowances, to be decided before 2020, while preserving predictability and environmental integrity.


However, the  said one-off flexibility between ETS and non-ETS foreseen in the European Council conclusions of October 2014 has not been included in the European Commission's proposal of 15 July 2015.


The aforementioned Detailed questions and answers explain this flexibility will be analysed in the course of developing the proposal to set national reduction targets for the non-ETS sectors in a fair and balanced manner.


It is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and risks related to fossil fuel dependency in the transport sector.


The European Council therefore invited the Commission to further examine instruments and measures for a comprehensive and technology neutral approach for the promotion of emissions reduction and energy efficiency in transport, for electric transportation and for renewable energy sources in transport also after 2020.


The European Council called for a rapid adoption of the Directive laying down calculation methods and reporting requirements pursuant to Directive 98/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels.


It also recalled that under existing legislation a Member State can opt to include the transport sector within the framework of the ETS.


The multiple objectives of the agriculture and land use sector, with their lower mitigation potential, are acknowledged, as well as the need to ensure coherence between the EU's food security and climate change objectives.


The European Council invited the European Commission to examine the best means of encouraging the sustainable intensification of food production, while optimising the sector's contribution to greenhouse gas mitigation and sequestration, including through afforestation.


Policy on how to include Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry into the 2030 greenhouse gas mitigation framework will be established as soon as technical conditions allow and in any case before 2020.





An EU target of at least 27% is set for the share of renewable energy consumed in the EU in 2030.


What is particularly noteworthy, this target will be binding at the EU level (and not at the level of Member States what is the rule untill 2020).


The uniform 27 % EU objective will be fulfilled through Member States contributions without preventing Member States from setting their own more ambitious national targets and supporting them, in line with the state aid guidelines, as well as taking into account their degree of integration in the internal energy market.


It is also acknowledged, the integration of rising levels of intermittent renewable energy requires a more interconnected internal energy market as well as appropriate back up, which should be coordinated as necessary at regional level.


Although the above European Council's document does not explicitly mention what that "back up" arrangements would be, existing practice is the reserve and emergency fossil-fuelled power plants are being safeguarded by appropriately designed capacity markets.


Energy efficiency


An indicative target at the EU level of at least 27% is set for improving energy efficiency in 2030 compared to projections of future energy consumption based on the current criteria.


It will be delivered in a cost-effective manner and it will fully respect the effectiveness of the ETS-system in contributing to the overall climate goals.


This will be reviewed by 2020, having in mind an EU level of 30%.


The Commission will propose priority sectors in which significant energy-efficiency gains can be reaped, and ways to address them at EU level, with the EU and the Member States focusing their regulatory and financial efforts on these sectors.


These targets will be achieved while fully respecting the Member States' freedom to determine their energy mix.


Targets will not be translated into nationally binding targets. Individual Member States are free to set their own higher national targets.




Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC to enhance cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments, 15.7.2015, COM(2015) 337 final, 2015/148 (COD)


Annexes to the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC to enhance cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments, 15.7.2015, COM(2015) 337 final, 2015/148 (COD)




The European Commission's website on the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies


The European Comission's  website on the EU ETS revision for phase 4 (2021-2030) 


Briefing EU Legislation in Progress, March 2016, Post-2020 reform of the EU Emissions Trading System



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