In 2011, emissions of greenhouse gases in the European Union fell to their lowest levels since 1990, says the European Environment Agency in a recent report. Good news, certainly, but behind the results lies a complex reality of contributing factors and the global economy--all of which need to be considered if real progress is to be maintained.
This article also exists in French ("Les émissions de gaz à effet de serre de l'UE ont chuté en 2011 : peut-on parler de progrès ?"), translated by Timothée Froelich.
(Credit: Flickr / freefotouk)
As part of its responsibilities under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the European Union takes stock each year of the greenhouse gas emissions produced within its territory two years before. The official analysis for 2011 was just recently published and it shows the lowest levels since 1990: 18.4% below this base year chosen for comparisons. A positive development, clearly, although the thanks for this drop of 3.3% over 2010 emissions goes mainly to the mild winter of 2011, when people heated their homes less, rather than to an evolution that can be relied upon from year to year. On several points, the results showed a similarly tempered success, reminding us that even if change is on the right track, it needs to be assessed in the full complexity of its context.
The report states, for instance, that fossil fuel use fell by 5% overall in 2011 (liquid fuel: -4%; natural gas: -11%). However, carbon-dense fuel, like coal and lignite, actually increased by almost 2%. Then again, the decreases observed were not entirely the result of shifting the blame: burning of biomass went up by less than a percent, and nuclear power for electricity generation even decreased with Germany’s closure of certain plants.
At the same time, despite progress on certain points, the greenhouse gas inventory notes a decline in renewable energy sources, concerning mainly hydroelectric—the second largest percentage drop since 1990. Clearly, this is a trend that needs to be reversed to ensure further reductions in emissions, and to do so will require significant investment from all member countries.
The states currently enjoying a position at the top of the list of emissions reduction are the UK, France and Germany (which also happen to be among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.) But even this success must be taken within a broader context. A report from the Committee on Climate Change states that over the last 20 years the UK’s carbon footprint has, in fact, increased by 10%. The culprit? Imported goods. “Growth in imported emissions has more than offset reductions in production emissions,” the document states. “The UK is now one of the world’s largest net importers of emissions, with a carbon footprint that is around 80% larger than its production emissions.” This shows the need for such EU-wide, and global, monitoring, cooperation and innovation to continue. In the meantime, early 2012 estimates show Europe holding its course in the direction of reduced emissions...
Figure 2 Greenhouse gas emissions by EU Member State
Source: European Environment Agency,
“Why did greenhouse gas emissions decrease in the EU in 2011?”
Find out more:
“Latest EU greenhouse gas emissions data (2011): lowest levels since 1990”, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission
“EU emissions fall, as does renewable energy use”, Resource magazine
Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory 1990-2011 and inventory report 2013
Reducing the UK’s carbon footprint and managing competitiveness risks, Committee on Climate Change, April 2013