European Environment Agency (EEA)

Greenhouse gas emissions in Europe: a retrospective trend analysis for the period 1990-2008


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

This report presents a retrospective overview of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission trends in Europe from 1990 to 2008, with a particular focus on the underpinning drivers and the influence of EU policies. The analysis is based on the combination of decomposition analyses to identify the respective influence of each identified driver and an overview of the main EU policies and their likely effects on these drivers. The period covered by the analysis stops in 2008. As a result, the analysis avoids the effects of the recent economic crisis on GHG emissions. This reinforces the conclusion on long-term emission drivers. The report covers the EU-27 and presents results for the other EEA member countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey) and Croatia (EU candidate country together with Turkey) as far as data is available.

Overall GHG emission trends

EU GHG emissions were reduced between 1990 and 2008. Most of the reductions took place in the 1990s, but emissions have also been decreasing every year from 2003 until the last year considered in this report, 2008.

In 2008, GHG emissions in the EU-27 were 11.1 % below their 1990 level. Much of this reduction took place during the 1990s. After a steep increase between 1999 and 2003, the EU-27’s emissions have declined again since 2003 to reach 4 969 million tonnes (Mt) CO2-equivalent in 2008.

Between 1990 and 2008, the largest absolute emission reductions took place in Germany, the United Kingdom and most EU-12 Member States, while emissions increased most (in absolute terms) in southern EU-15 Member States (Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal). Outside of the EU, all the other EEA member countries except Switzerland have experienced an increase in their total GHG emissions between 1990 and 2008, including a doubling of total emissions in Turkey.

Between 1990 and 2008, per gross domestic product (GDP) emissions decreased by 38 % in the EU-27 (GDP increased by 44 % while emissions decreased by 11 %) and by 34 % in the EU-15 (GDP increased by 43 % with a 6 % reduction in GHG emissions). GHG emissions per capita show significant differences across European countries, depending on national circumstances. Between 1990 and 2008, per capita emissions decreased by 16 % in the EU-27.

Predominant drivers

For the most part, the GHG emission trends observed in the EU between 1990 and 2008 resulted from economic factors. However, EU policies, some of which were not directly targeting GHG emissions, as well as national policies by some front runner countries, also played a role in these trends.

GHG emissions in the EU during the 1990–2008 period were significantly affected by economic or macro-economic factors. Emission levels varied considerably in the 1990s under the influence of the political and economic process taking place in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This led to the restructuring of the economies of these countries, including the reunified Germany. In the energy and industry sectors, a number of heavily polluting plants were closed and the structure of industry was subsequently modified. In the agriculture sector, decollectivisation resulted in a radical restructuration with very large decreases, for example, in the number of cattle. Across the energy, industry and agriculture sectors, the economic trends resulted in significant reductions in GHG emission levels. At the other end of the spectrum, the sustained economic development of southern European countries during the 1990–2008 period, accompanied by rising incomes, higher living standards and, consequently, higher energy demand, resulted in significant increases in emissions.. For example, increasing mobility of persons and increasing globalisation of trade led to an overall increase in transport emissions across the whole of Europe.

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