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11th Apr 2021

EU emissions down 24% on 1990 - but still off 2030 target

  • Covid-19 is expected to lead to an 'unprecedented' emissions drop in 2020

EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly four percent in 2019, compared with the previous year, while the bloc's GDP continued to grow, according to latest official data released on Monday (30 November).

Last year's emissions were down by 24 percent on 1990 levels, reaching their lowest level in three decades.

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"The European Union is proving it is possible to reduce emissions and grow your economy," the EU commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said on Monday.

"However, we need to step up our efforts across all sectors of the economy to reach our common goal of climate neutrality by 2050," he added.

Emissions regulated under the EU's carbon market fell strongly, by 9.1 percent compared to 2018.

This is explained mainly by the decarbonisation of the power sector, where emissions fell by almost 15 percent, primarily with coal-fired electricity production being replaced by renewables and gas.

The Emissions Trading System (ETS), which regulates around 45 percent of the EU's output of greenhouse gases, allows companies to receive or buy emission allowances, which they can also trade.

The ETS's aviation emissions, which currently only cover flights within the European Economic Area, increased again in 2019, by three percent compared to the previous year.

Meanwhile, non-ETS emissions (such as those from transport, buildings, agriculture and waste) remained unchanged from 2018 to 2019.

But it is estimated that 12 countries exceeded their allocation of annual emissions - including Belgium, Germany, Austria and Poland.

'Drop in the ocean'

Additionally, the European Environment Agency warned on Monday that "remaining on track to meet the 2030 and 2050 objectives will demand sustained and long-term efforts".

Last year, member states prepared their 10-year National Energy and Climate Plans, designed to reach the 2030 climate and energy targets.

However, the EU Commission estimates that their implementation will set the EU on track to hit only a 41-percent reduction of emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) - falling short of the new, updated, target of at least 55-percent emissions cut currently on the table.

EU leaders are expected to endorse this new EU-wide target at next week's summit (10 and 11 December).

Once that new target is adopted, the EU will be able to submit a new climate pledge under the Paris climate agreement before the end-of-year deadline.

"It is good that emissions are inching downwards, but these figures are a drop in the ocean compared to what the climate crisis requires. The EU needs to kick its climate policy up several gears urgently, starting with its 2030 target," said Alex Mason from WWF Europe, who call for at least a 65-percent emissions cut.

The UN has repeatedly warned that the world is falling behind Paris climate goals of keeping global temperature increase well below 2 degrees or at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Covid drop

Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to lead to an "unprecedented" emissions drop in 2020.

As experienced with previous crises, the commission warns that "a swift economic recovery may lead to a strong and rapid rebound in emissions unless policy gears stimulus measures toward the green transition".

Following the first outbreaks in spring, EU leaders decided to make the green transition the cornerstone of the €1.8 trillion recovery package and the long-term EU budget - agreeing to spend one-third of the total budget on climate-related projects.

However, according to Patrick ten Brink from the European Environmental Bureau, "it is time to for governments and institutions to put their money where their mouth is and shift investments from expensive fossil fuels infrastructure to renewables and energy efficiency".

"This is the only way we can guarantee that emissions will continue to decrease as needed," he added.

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