Skip to main content

European shift to green electricity not only good for the climate


European shift to green electricity not only good for the climate

A recent study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that the growing share of renewable electricity in the European Union not only mitigates climate change, but is also beneficial to our air, water and soil quality. Yet there is still work to be done to meet the Paris climate targets.

Tom Wolfs | 19 January 2021

In 2019, the share of green electricity in the European electricity mix was ca. 34%: nearly  double that of the reference year 2005. Furthermore, coal is no longer the main source of electricity in the EU. That is good news for the climate, according to a new study by the EEA. The shift to renewable sources such as solar panels, wind energy and biomass has actually led to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Advantages and disadvantages

The air, water and soil quality in the EU also benefit from the transition from grey to green electricity. For example, the study shows that renewable sources have a lower impact over their entire life cycle in terms of emissions of particulate matter, freshwater enrichment and soil acidification.

Parameters on which sources of renewable electricity score worse are land use and the toxicity for fresh water. The EEA consequently proposes targeted actions in its report to counteract possible undesired effects of the transition.

One of these is a greater focus on the recovery of materials to conserve raw materials. Discarded solar panels are a case in point, as the mining of copper for these panels involves considerable environmental pollution.

Acceleration needed

Despite the doubling of the share of renewable electricity, the EU needs to step up its efforts  significantly in order to meet the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement. According to the NGO Climate Action Network Europe, the generation of green electricity would have to triple in the next ten years if the global temperature increase is to be kept below 1.5°C.

The EEA itself also points out that the growth is not sufficient to achieve the 55% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030, and that it will not be enough to become climate-neutral by 2050 at the same rate. For that to happen, the share of renewable electricity would have to rise above 80%.


Sources: & European Environment Agency, Climate Action Network Europe