Latest data confirm that the EU is on track to over‑achieve its Kyoto Protocol target
In October 2013, the EEA published its annual assessment of the progress of the European Union (EU) and European countries towards achieving their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol for the period 2008–2012, as Part A of the EEA report Trends and projections in Europe 2013 – Tracking progress towards Europe's climate and energy targets until 2020 (EEA, 2013a). This assessment was based on approximated estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the year 2012 (EEA, 2013b).
This report provides an update of the 2013 assessment, based on the recent national GHG inventories submitted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in April/May 2014 (EEA, 2014a). These inventories cover for the first time the full time series corresponding to the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It is also based on updated information on the effects of carbon sinks (also submitted in 2014 under the Kyoto Protocol) and on the use of flexible mechanisms as reported by Member States to the EU. However, final compliance will only be determined after the international review of the GHG inventories under the UNFCCC process and a subsequent 100-day period during which parties will have the possibility to finalise, if necessary, purchases of Kyoto units from other countries in order to achieve compliance.
The updated assessment confirms to a large extent the conclusions of the 2013 report: the EU is well on track towards over-achieving its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Of the 30 EEA member countries which have a target for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012), all except Italy are on track to achieving their own Kyoto target.
The EU‑15 has a common reduction target of – 8 % compared to base-year levels. During the period 2008–2012, total GHG emissions were on average 11.8 % below base-year emissions. Just between 2008 and 2012, GHG emissions decreased by 9.7 % in the EU‑15 (9.2 % in the whole EU). Recent EEA analyses indicate that economic recession can explain between 30 % and 50 % of the observed emission reductions across the EU. The combined effects of other factors play a more important role. These factors include the lower energy intensity of the economy (improved efficiency and changes in the structure of the economy) as well as lower carbon intensity of the energy mix (an increasing share of renewables).
Besides domestic GHG emissions levels (i.e. territorial emissions) during this period, a number of other parameters must be taken into account to properly assess progress towards Kyoto and burden-sharing targets:
- The allocation of allowances under the ETS. Since such allowances are linked to Kyoto units, this is equivalent to splitting the Kyoto or burden‑sharing targets into two parts: one covering the ETS sectors (the ETS cap for 2008–2012, which operators of installations covered by the ETS are legally bound to achieve), and one for the non‑ETS emissions, to be achieved by governments.
- The net contribution on GHG emissions of activities related to carbon sinks and sources, such as when carbon is absorbed by forest growth with any net benefit then being accounted for.
- The use of flexible mechanisms, which allows countries to buy emission credits from other countries in order to increase their emission budget.
The EU‑15 on track to over-achieve its target by 1 billion tonnes (without taking into account over-achievements in the EU ETS)
Taking the effects of all these parameters into account, the combined performance of all EU‑15 Member States could lead to a total overdelivery of about 1.0 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent over the full 5-year period, without accounting for any over-achievement taking place within the EU ETS (which would not count towards Kyoto compliance). This results from:
- an over-achievement of the allowed level for non-ETS emissions at EU‑15 level by a difference of 415 Mt CO2-equivalent for the full period (83 Mt CO2-equivalent per year, which corresponds to 1.9 % of EU‑15 base-year emissions, in comparison with an 8 % reduction target);
- a total removal of 293 Mt CO2-equivalent for the full the commitment period due to LULUCF activities (59 Mt CO2-equivalent per year which corresponds to 1.4 % of EU‑15 base-year emissions);
- the intended net purchase by governments of nine EU Member States of 328 million units through flexible mechanisms (66 Mt CO2‑equivalent per year, representing 1.5 % of base-year emissions). This does not include the additional use of flexible mechanisms by operators within the EU ETS.
As the intended use in most EU Member States is larger than the quantity actually needed to close the gap to target, the total amount of flexible mechanisms used is actually likely to be lower than reported. The EEA estimates that 280 million units would be sufficient for EU‑15 Member States to achieve their burden‑sharing targets.
When looking at total GHG emissions at national level, average emission levels for the period 2008–2012 were below Kyoto targets in 20 of the 30 European countries which are assessed in this report. When non-ETS emissions only are considered, levels for the period 2008–2012 were below the corresponding target levels in 18 of the European countries assessed in this report. Carbon sequestration from sinks could fully cover the gap remaining between emissions and non-ETS targets in Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia.
Twelve European countries intend to use flexible mechanisms provided under the Kyoto Protocol to achieve their respective targets. Altogether, these countries intend to buy approximately 389 million Kyoto units to achieve their target. However, the amount of units actually needed for compliance might be lower than the intended use reported by EU Member States.
Using the flexible mechanisms is in particular crucial for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, to reach their Kyoto or burden-sharing targets. For Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Spain, the use of flexible mechanisms represents about 10% or more of base‑year emissions.
Flexible mechanisms have also been used in the EU ETS: in total 808 million credits (528 million certified emission reductions (CERs) and 281 million emission reduction units (ERUs) have been used by operators to comply during the second trading period of the ETS (2008–2012). However, these credits do not directly contribute to the achievement of Kyoto targets by governments.
Taking together the actual use of flexible mechanisms in the EU ETS in the period 2008–2012 and the estimated use by governments, considering most actual emission data in this period, the total amount is 441 Mt CO2-equivalent per year, which is 5.1 % of base year emissions.
Italy still not fully on track towards its burden-sharing target
As was already the case in previous assessments, Italy is still not on track towards its burden-sharing target under EU law. The current information on GHG emissions and removals from carbon sink activities indicate a need for Italy to purchase about 28 million Kyoto units for the whole commitment period, when only 10 million units have been purchased so far and no concrete plan exists for purchasing additional units. Italy falls therefore short of its burden-sharing target by a shortfall of about 18 Mt CO2-equivalent for the whole period. Italy should therefore address this issue by revising its plans concerning the purchase of Kyoto units to fully cover this observed gap. Italy reported recently that the purchase of the necessary quantity of AAUs to achieve compliance had been approved in its 2014 economic and financial document (DEF) (Italy, 2014).
Although the EU‑15 overall emission reduction largely exceeds the 8 % reduction target, formal compliance by the EU‑15 still depends on the achievement by each of the EU‑15 Member States of their own target set under the Burden-Sharing Agreement. Italy will need to address its current gap by increasing its use of flexible mechanisms by the end of the true-up period in 2015, in order for the EU‑15 to achieve its target.