Greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union dropped by 3.7% last year, bringing the bloc on track to smash its 2020 emission goals by 4 percentage points, according to the European Environment Agency.
Emissions have been steadily declining in the EU, falling to 24% below 1990 levels in 2019, according to the EEA trends and projections report 2020, which tracks progress towards the EU’s climate and energy goals.
The 24% cut in emissions is significantly higher than the 20% target agreed by the European Union for 2020, says the report, published on Monday (30 November).
“This highlights the results of effective climate policies implemented across the EU and shows that it is clearly possible to achieve more ambitious reduction targets by 2030, paving the way for a climate neutral EU by 2050,” the EEA said in a statement.
Preliminary data also suggests 19.4% of total energy consumed in the EU-27 last year came from renewable sources like hydro, biomass, wind and solar power.
“The EU is therefore on track to the 2020 target of a minimum 20% share,” the EEA said.
However, the figures may not look so rosy in future reports after the departure of the UK from the European Union. Indeed, the 2020 statistics still reflect the UK’s contribution to the EU-wide goals, which are overall positive.
This year, UK carbon emission have hit their lowest level since 1888, on the back of rapidly falling coal emissions caused in large part by the EU’s carbon trading scheme, the EU’s flagship climate policy tool.
Indeed, the biggest source of satisfaction came from the emissions trading scheme where emission dropped by 9.1% last year compared to 2018.
Those emissions cuts were unprecedented in the last decade and took place during a period of moderate economic expansion, showing a decoupling of energy-related emissions from GDP growth, the EEA said.
“It is encouraging that even before the exceptional year of the corona pandemic, substantial emission reductions were achieved in the European Union,” said Jutta Paulus, a Green member of the European Parliament.
“However, enormous efforts will be needed to accelerate the expansion of renewable energies” in the next decade, she added, saying “the neglected potential in energy efficiency must finally be addressed”.
“We can be confident in our progress, but this is no time to rest on our laurels,” said the European Commission’s first vice-president Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of overseeing the European Green Deal.
“The transition is feasible if we stick to our commitment and seize the opportunities of the recovery to reboot our economy in a greener, more resilient way and create a healthy, sustainable future for all,” he added.
Progress still to be made
With existing policies and measures implemented, total emissions in the EU-27 are projected to be slashed by 30% by 2030. With planned national measures, EU member states are expected to bring those emissions reductions to around 41% by the end of the decade.
However, that would fall considerably short of the 55% emission cuts which the European Union is now contemplating for the end of the decade.
And progress at the EU level showed signs of slowing. “In 2019, preliminary estimates point towards 12 countries with emission levels greater than their annual targets: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Poland,” the EEA said.
Europe is also likely to miss its energy efficiency target, which unlike the EU’s renewable target is not legally binding on EU member states.
Efforts to reduce energy consumption have not been enough, according to the EEA, with estimates for 2019 showing that only nine member states were on track to meet their respective 2020 final energy efficiency targets.
“I expect ambitious legislative proposals from Climate Commissioner Timmermans for renewable energies, emissions trading and the building and transport sectors. Only in this way can we travel to the climate conference in Glasgow with a clear conscience,” Paulus said.
The COVID-19 crisis in 2020 is also likely to make the 2020 targets easier to achieve, the EEA said, pointing to the economic downturn which has greatly reduced overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the transport sector.
However, these gains may be short-lived, the EEA cautioned, saying the impact of the COVID crisis on reaching 2030 targets is questionable.
“While recent trends suggest achievement or overachievement of the 2020 emissions reductions targets, remaining on track to meet the 2030 and 2050 objectives will demand sustained and long-term efforts,” according to the EEA.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]