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Climate Action

EU competences in the field of climate action


Both the EU and Member States enact climate policies – but who does what?

The European Union only has the competences (powers) conferred on it by EU Member States via the treaties. Other competences remain with the Member States.

According to articles 11 and 191-193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the EU is competent to act in all areas of environmental policy, including climate change. Its scope for action is limited by the principle of subsidiarity.

Fighting climate change is a shared competence: both the EU and its Member States may adopt legally binding acts. However, the Member States can do so only where the EU has not exercised its competence or has explicitly ceased to do so.  Within each Member State, some areas may be the responsibility of local or regional governments.

Moreover, Member States are responsible for implementing EU law on the ground.

EU-wide climate neutrality

Under the European Climate Law, the EU has a legal obligation to become climate-neutral by 2050. This includes an intermediate 2030 target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55%.

Member States may adopt more ambitious intermediate targets. They are also in charge of the methods they choose to achieve emission reductions on their territory.

Approaches to reducing emissions are different across sectors.

EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

With the EU ETS, the EU has set a limit on overall emissions from some sectors, especially energy supply, energy-intensive industries and aviation, and created a marketplace for emissions allowances, thereby putting a price on carbon.

The implementation of the EU ETS is a shared competence:

  • the Commission acts when uniform conditions of implementation at EU level are needed to ensure a harmonised approach across all Member States, e.g. to determine the allocation of free allowances and to monitor, report and verify emissions.
  • Member States allocate allowances to their industrial operators, and track and validate the actual emissions in accordance with the relevant assigned amount. Some Member States operate auction platforms. Member States also spend ETS revenues on climate action.

Effort Sharing

The Effort Sharing regulation deals with emissions in domestic transport (excluding aviation), buildings, agriculture, waste and small industrial installations in the EU. By 2030, these emissions will be cut by 40% compared to 2005 levels.

All Member States participate in this effort, with national targets ranging between -10% and -50%. Member States are responsible for implementing and achieving these targets through a combination of EU and national measures. Within each Member State, some of these areas may be the responsibility of local or regional governments.

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)

The LULUCF regulation introduces an EU target for net carbon sinks by natural sinks of -310 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. There are  specific targets for each Member State.

Member States are responsible for caring for and expanding their carbon removals to meet the new EU target. They have many measures at hand to improve their land management, including sustainable forest management or the rewetting of peatlands. They update their strategic plans under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to reflect the higher ambition for the land sector.

CO₂ standards for cars and vans

All new cars and vans sold in the EU from 1 January 2035 must be zero-emission vehicles, with specific emission reduction targets from 2030 as compared to 2021 levels. Specific targets are also set annually for each manufacturer.

Member States play a crucial role in it as the success of this new policy will depend on increasing the number of charging stations across Europe. Within the framework of the   regulation for the deployment of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure, Member States, with the help of local authorities, will increase charging capacity in line with sales of zero-emission cars and install recharging and refuelling points at regular intervals on major motorways.

Supporting everyone in the green transition

Beyond legislation, the EU offers financial support to Member States, towns, regions, businesses and vulnerable groups to help them with the green transition. Our financial support takes different forms, such as the LIFE programme, the Social Climate Fund, the Innovation Fund and the Modernisation Fund.