Tracking progress towards Kyoto and 2020 targets in Europe


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Executive summary

This report presents an overview of the progress achieved so far by the EU, its Member States and other EEA member countries towards their respective targets under the Kyoto Protocol and the EU burden-sharing agreement. The assessment is based on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission data in Europe for 2008, the first year of the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period which runs from 2008 to 2012. The recent availability of 2009 emissions estimates for the EU and a limited number of countries broadens, in these cases, the basis of the assessment to two years of the five-year commitment period.

Current emission levels and projections show that the EU is well on track to achieve its 2020 reduction target of 20 % with domestic emission reductions only, provided that Member States fully implement the EU climate and energy package adopted in 2009.

The EU-27 has committed to reduce its GHG emissions by at least 20 % by 2020 compared to 1990 levels and to increase this commitment to a 30 % reduction if other major emitting countries agree to similar targets. Based on recent EEA estimates, EU-27 GHG emissions in 2009 decreased by 6.9 % compared to 2008. They stood in 2009 approximately 17.3 % below the 1990 level and therefore very close to the 20 % emission reduction target.

Although it can be expected that recent emission reductions will level off or even be reversed temporarily as the economy picks up again, projections from the European Commission show that the EU‑27 is expected to achieve its 20 % reduction commitment by 2020 through domestic action alone, provided that Member States fully implement the climate and energy package.

The EU‑15 is also well on track to achieve its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol of reducing emissions by 8 % compared to base year levels. This result relies on the assumption — which cannot be taken for granted — that certain Member States will exceed their target and cover any shortfall in other Member States. In fact, failure by any EU‑15 Member State to meet its own burden‑sharing target would jeopardise the possibility of the EU‑15 achieving its common target.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU‑15 has committed to a common emission reduction target of 8 % compared to base-year levels, to be achieved over a five-year commitment period from 2008 to 2012. Based on recent EEA estimates, 2009 emissions in the EU‑15 were 6.9 % lower than in 2008. As a result, EU‑15 average emissions for 2008 and 2009 (the two first years of the commitment period) were lower than the EU‑15 emission target by
94 Mt CO2‑equivalent per year (2.2 % of base-year emissions). This overachievement at EU‑15 level increases to more than 253 Mt CO2-equivalent per year (5.9 % of base year emissions) when two factors are taken into account:

governments' planned net annual acquisition of emissions units through the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms in order to comply with their targets in sectors not covered by the EU emission trading scheme (EU ETS) for the whole commitment period (117 million units per year or 2.7 % of base year emissions); expected annual carbon sequestration from LULUCF activities (42 Mt CO2 per year or 1.0 % of base-year  emissions).

Despite possible short-term increases in European emissions subsequent to economic recovery, European Commission projections show that over the full commitment period 2008–2012 the EU‑15's aggregated emissions will stay well below its Kyoto target with the current policies in place.

Nevertheless, further efforts are necessary from Member States to guarantee that the EU‑15 achieves its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. The EEA analysis of current emission levels in the EU‑15 shows that shortfalls currently exist in Austria, Denmark and Italy. These three countries therefore need to step up their efforts by achieving further emission reductions in sectors not covered by the EU ETS or by revising upwards their current plans on using flexible mechanisms at government level. Shortfalls can be offset using the flexible mechanisms through transfers from Member States that exceed their targets. Such transfers should not be taken for granted, however, because any Member State has the right to retain or cancel (i.e. not make available to other EU Member States) any surplus compliance unit by the end of the commitment period.

Most European countries with a Kyoto target were on track towards their individual target in 2008, based on their emission levels that year. However in three EU Member States (Austria, Denmark and Italy), two other EEA countries (Liechtenstein and Switzerland) and one EU candidate country (Croatia), emissions stayed above their limits in 2008 despite planned use of flexible mechanisms and expected carbon removals from LULUCF activities over the full commitment period. 2009 emission estimates available from Denmark, Italy and Switzerland do not change this picture, despite the effect of the economic recession on GHG emissions. No 2009 information is available for Austria, Croatia and Liechtenstein.

In 2008, 17 Member States, the EU‑15 and Norway had reduced or limited their domestic GHG emissions to below their Kyoto target level (bearing in mind the allocation of a proportion of their respective budgets to the EU ETS). The other countries (Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland) still had actual emission levels above their respective targets. When national plans to acquire emission credits through flexible mechanisms or to sequester carbon throughout the full commitment period are considered, five EU Member States and Iceland appear on track towards their target. However, the 2008 emission levels of three Member States (Austria, Denmark and Italy) as well as Croatia, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, remain above their respective emission budgets. At the end of 2008, Austria, Denmark and Italy together needed to fill a gap of 29 Mt CO2-equivalent per year by the end of 2012 to guarantee that the EU‑15 meets its Kyoto target.

Estimates of 2009 GHG emissions are available for a third of the 32 EEA member countries (Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). These show that the actual progress of these countries towards their targets in 2009 did not change significantly compared to 2008. In particular, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland remain above their respective targets, despite their planned used of flexible mechanisms and carbon sink removals. In the case of Denmark, however, the gap to the target became quite small in 2009 and may fall within the uncertainty range. Furthermore, according to projections from that country and reported by the European Commission, Denmark expects to bridge its remaining gap through further emission reductions over the period 2010–2012 compared to 2008–2009 average levels. Similarly, Switzerland estimates that further emission reductions over the period 2010–2012 will close the remaining gap. No recent information on 2009 emissions in Austria, the third EU country above its target in 2008, is currently publicly available. Estimates of 2009 emissions in additional countries would provide a more complete and accurate picture of the overall situation in Europe in progressing towards the Kyoto targets.

The economic crisis, which resulted in significant reductions of total GHG emissions in 2009, had a somewhat smaller impact on progress towards Kyoto targets because emission reductions in the sectors not covered by the EU ETS were not as large as overall reductions. With caps set on emissions from sectors covered by the EU ETS, emissions from non-ETS sectors take on a special importance as they are the only ones that matter for the achievement of Kyoto targets by governments.

A country's progress towards its Kyoto target is determined by comparing its emissions with an emission budget set according to its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol (or the burden-sharing agreement in the case of EU‑15 Member States). In order to keep its emissions lower than its emission budget, a country can either limit or reduce its emissions or increase its emission budget. The latter can be done by acquiring additional emission
credits from other countries (use of the Kyoto flexible mechanisms) and by enhancing carbon sequestration through land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities.

EU governments split their Kyoto emission budgets in two. A portion is allocated to the sectors covered by the EU ETS (primarily industrial installations). Total emissions from those sectors is capped under EU law and the distribution of abatement measures among sources is determined by market forces within the trading mechanism. The remainder of a country's budget is allocated to non-ETS sectors such as buildings, transport or agriculture. With emissions capped in the EU ETS sectors, it is only variations in emissions from non-ETS sectors that matter for the achievement of Kyoto targets by governments. For more on this topic, see Section 2.3 below.

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