The EU-15 cut their average annual greenhouse gas emissions by 253 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent beyond what would be required to meet their collective 8% target during 2008 and 2009, according to the latest progress report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), published on 12 October.
"This puts the EU-15 collectively 5.9% below the 8% Kyoto reduction target," the EEA said. This would give them a head start "to reach and even overachieve" the target, it added.
However, the report noted that the estimates are based on the assumption that EU countries overachieving their targets will be able to make up for any shortfall by others. It identified Austria, Denmark and Italy as the black sheep that will have to achieve further emission reductions in sectors not covered by the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) or by buying more carbon credits than already planned.
The EEA attributed the larger than required reductions to the recession, noting that emissions dropped by 6.9% between 2008 and 2009. It argued that the decline is set to continue, although economic recovery could temporarily level off or possible even reverse the decline.
The projections also show that the EU will be able to meet its 2020 emissions reduction target of 20% with domestic reductions only if it fully implements the climate and energy package. The EEA recently estimated that EU-27 emissions in 2009 would stand at 17.3% below 1990 levels, which is the base year for measuring the target.
In addition, 10 out of the 12 EU states that joined later took on individual targets of 6% or 8%. The EEA said nine of these countries were on track towards their Kyoto targets without needing to buy carbon credits or use carbon sinks, while Slovenia would get there with its current plans to use such flexible instruments.
The European Commission also published a progress report on the same day, with the distinction that it also looked at projections until the end of the 2012 commitment period, instead of concentrating on actual emissions in the first two years of the term.
It argued that the EU-15 as a whole would reduce their emissions to 14.2% below base year levels by 2012 when Kyoto expires, provided that member states buy international emission credits and carry out afforestation and reforestation activities as planned. Existing policies would only deliver emission reductions of 10.4%, it said.
The estimates were published as EU environment ministers were preparing to meet today (14 October) to adopt a common position for the Cancún climate conference at the end of the year.
"The European Union not only signed the Kyoto Protocol, we not only pledged under Kyoto. The facts show that the world can count on the European Union; what we pledge we also deliver," said EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.