There is wide scientific consensus that emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), of which the biggest share is CO2, are responsible for global warming, with potentially dramatic economic, social and environmental consequences. Therefore, the EU has put forward its “Climate and Energy Package”, comprising, amongst other commitments, the binding 20% target for renewable energy in 2020 and a binding 20% GHG reduction target by the same year (in the event of an international agreement on climate change the GHG reduction target will be increased to 30%; see for instance: Council of the European Union: Presidency conclusions of the Brussels European Council).
Renewable energy has a significant role to play in mitigating climate change. Increasing the share of renewable energy in the EU fuel mix will result in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Wind, solar, hydropower, ocean and geothermal energy do not contain any fossil carbon atoms to form climate-damaging CO2 during combustion. In principle, biomass stored solar energy; it is CO2 -neutral as it absorbs the same amount of CO2 during growth period as it emits during use.
Hence, renewable energy is not only resource compatible, but also climate compatible. In 2009 alone, CO2 emissions were reduced by about 340 million tonnes or 7% against 1990 levels in the EU through the use of renewable energy sources (calculations are based on the GEMIS-model (Global Emission Model for Integrated Systems). Given a carbon price of about €15/t in 2009 this emission reduction benefit equals about €51 billion.
Lastly, the amount of CO2 emissions that can be avoided through the exploitation of the EU´s potential of renewable energy strongly depends on the way in which the renewable source is converted into heat, electricity or transport fuels, and which fossil fuels are replaced.