Why did GHG emissions decrease in the EU in 2012?

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Total GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) in the EU decreased again in 2012, reaching its lowest level since 1990. This continued the trend of emission reductions, which started in 2004.

In line with EEA predictions last year2 GHG emissions between 2011 and 2012 decreased by 1.3 % in the EU28 and by 0.8 % in the EU-15. Figure 1 shows total greenhouse gas emissions in the period 1990–2012, both in the EU-15 (which has a collective target under Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period) and in the EU-28.

About two thirds of the EU net decrease in GHG emissions was accounted for by Italy, Poland and Finland. In percentage terms, emission reductions were highest in Finland, Denmark and Bulgaria.

The 1.3 % decrease in GHG emissions in EU-28 in 2012 came along with economic recession across the EU as a whole. Half the EU member states experienced negative economic growth in 2012. In the other half, positive economic growth in 2012 was lower than in 2011. Notwithstanding economic developments in specific sectors and countries, there was no apparent correlation between GDP and GHG emissions in the EU in 2012, although emissions did not increase in any MS where GDP was negative5.

The winter in Europe was generally colder in 2012 than it was in 2011. Lower winter temperatures led to higher heating demand and higher emissions from the residential and commercial sectors. However, higher residential emissions did not offset much lower emissions in other combustion sectors, and as a result, total fossil fuel emissions decreased for the EU as a whole.

The price of carbon fell sharply in 2012 compared to 2011. However, energy prices increased by 7 % on average for the EU in 2012, clearly outpacing the increase in non-energy prices and the gross disposable income of households. Despite low carbon prices, energy became relatively more expensive for the average household. The consumer price index for energy increased three and half times faster than the harmonised consumer price index (excluding energy). This worsening of the relative purchasing power of families for energy products may have also contributed to the decline in GHG emissions in some Member States, particularly in road transportation.

GHG emissions decreased in the majority of key sectors in 2012. The exceptions were the residential and commercial sectors, where emissions increased due to the higher demand for heating. On average, the total consumption of fossil fuels decreased by 1.6 % in the EU-28 in 2012. The use of liquid and gaseous fuels decreased by 3.5 % and 2.7 % compared to 2011, respectively. However, the use of solid fuels, such as hard coal and lignite, increased by 3.7 %. Coal imports to the EU continued increasing quite significantly in 2012, particularly from Russia, Colombia and United States, putting downward pressure on coal prices. This increase in coal use did not offset a much larger decrease in the consumption of liquid fuels and natural gas, and GHG emissions fell as a result.

After the sharp decline in renewables witnessed in 2011, final energy consumption from renewables increased by 3.6 % in EU-28 in 2012. The contribution of renewables to the EU’s overall energy mix improved quite significantly because of the lower use of fossil fuels in 2012. According to Eurostat, the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption reached 14.1 % in 2012, up from 12.9 % the year before. Approximately 50 % of the net increase in renewable energy in 2012 came from biomass (solid, biogas, biodiesel and renewable waste) and the other 50 % from wind, solar and hydro power. Nuclear electricity consumption also declined in the EU-28 in 2012 compared to 2011, mainly due to strong reductions in France, Germany and Belgium

In absolute terms, GHG emissions decreased by 59 million tonnes of CO2 eq. in the EU-28 in 2012. The only key sector where emissions at EU level increased in 2012 was ‘residential and commercial’, which broadly falls outside the scope of the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). The key reason for the 21 million tonnes increase in CO2 emissions (16 of which from residential) in this sector was the colder winter in 2012, which increased demand for heating, particularly by households.

The largest decrease in emissions (32 million tonnes of CO2) occurred in road transportation, which also falls outside the scope of the EU ETS. This was due to lower fuel sales of gasoline, mainly, and diesel for passenger cars as well as lower diesel sales for heavy duty and light commercial vehicles. To a lesser extent, increased use of biofuels and more efficient new vehicles also contributed to lower emissions in 2012. EU emissions from transport fell for the fifth consecutive year.

The sectors showing the second and third largest declines broadly fall within the scope of the EU ETS. The second-largest decrease was accounted for by manufacturing industries and construction, including iron and steel (23 million tonnes of CO2). This reflects a decline in industrial production, particularly of cement and crude steel production. The third-largest decrease corresponded to the manufacture of other fuels (almost 10 million tonnes of CO2), mainly linked to lower iron and steel production and the associated decline in coke production as well as the decline in oil and gas production.

Between 2011 and 2012 the emission reductions were larger in the installations covered by the ETS (– 2.0 %) than in the non-ETS sectors (– 0.8 %) for the EU as a whole. In the ETS sectors, lower output from combustion installations accounted for about one third of the total reduction in emissions in 2012. Industrial installations, particularly cement, refineries and iron and steel (including coke ovens), accounted for the remaining two thirds of the total reduction in ETS emissions. For the non-ETS sectors, CO2 emissions from road transportation and N2O emissions from agricultural soils accounted for most of the reduction in 2012.

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