Climate policy targets for 2020 – is the EU on track?

Amount of effort required by the European Union to reach the common 20 per cent target. Photo: Grey/CC BY

The European Union as a whole has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 18-27 per cent between 1990 and 2012. To achieve 20 percent reductions by 2020 will be an easy walk.

Environmental NGOs have demanded for many years that the EU should reduce emissions of domestic emissions of greenhouse gases least 40 per cent from 1990 levels by the year 2020. This is based on conclusions in reports from the UN climate science body, the IPCC, that outline the steps we need to take to avoid global warming of 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels. But the EU’s present targets include only a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.

Other EU targets are to raise the share of energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20 per cent, and to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent. According to a new European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment report1 the EU is largely on track towards its 20-20-20 targets, but member states are showing mixed progress towards these targets. Nevertheless the EEA says in the report that the EU as a whole could reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 21 per cent in 2020 with the set of national measures already adopted.

According to the report, the EU reduced emissions between 1990 and 2012 by approximately 18 per cent – so it is already close to the target of a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. The EU was also on track towards its common target for renewable energy consumption; renewables contributed 13 per cent of final energy consumption in 2011, which should increase to 20 per cent by 2020.

Emissions fell almost 1 per cent in 2012, according to approximate 2012 greenhouse gas emissions data published recently. The EEA report also builds on these figures, providing for the first time a complete picture of emission reductions achieved under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012).

The EEA report concludes that the 15 member states with a common commitment under the Kyoto Protocol (EU-15) are estimated to have reduced emissions between 2008 and 2012 by 12.2 per cent, well beyond the 8 per cent target required under the Kyoto Protocol.

Moreover, almost all European countries with an individual greenhouse gas reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol (26 member states of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) were on track towards their respective targets. Two EU member states do not have an individual target for 2008–2012.

The EEA report says that the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) supported many member states in achieving Kyoto targets. When targets were agreed for ETS and non-ETS sectors, some countries put more emphasis on achieving emission reductions in economic sectors that are not part of the ETS, such as road transport and households. The EEA finds that these countries need to acquire relatively large quantities of Kyoto emission credits to reach their individual targets. This concerns in particular Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Spain.

An analysis by Greenpeace2 shows that the European Union (EU), with its 28 member states, is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for about 10 per cent of today’s annual global emissions and 13 per cent of 1990–2010 cumulative emissions. Renewable energy accounted for 13 per cent of the EU’s final energy consumption in 2011. Looking at Gross Inland Consumption in 2011, the share of oil was 35 per cent, gas 24 per cent, coal and other solid fuels 17 per cent, nuclear 14 per cent and renewables 10 per cent.  

Concerning the EU pledge to cut its emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, Greenpeace also considers the EU’s 2020 effort as inadequate because in 2012 the EU’s emissions were already 18 per cent below 1990 levels, while GDP has grown by more than 40 per cent over the same period. Taking into account emission reductions elsewhere (offsets), EU emissions had fallen nearly 27 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The analysis says that the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) has been a less successful policy. According to Greenpeace the ETS is becoming a barrier to Europe’s environmental progress, based on the following assumptions: “The scheme was expected to deliver 2.8 billion tonnes of emission reductions by 2020, but over-allocation, an influx of international offset credits and the economic recession, have created a huge oversupply of allowances, and undermined the functioning of the ETS. The price of EU emission allowances is currently around €5 per tonne. The EU is poised to temporarily remove 900 million tonnes of carbon allowances from the scheme, storing these allowances for use after 2020 (“back-loading”). But EU policymakers have failed to provide a structural solution for the ETS. Moreover, the reintroduction of the stored ETS allowances after 2020 will significantly weaken any post-2020 climate action by the EU”.

Reinhold Pape

1EEA report
2Greenpeace report

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