02 October 2012
European Environment Agency's Climate Change Analyst Ricardo Fernandez provides insight into the changing levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU…
Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (excluding LULUCF) in the EU increased by 2.4%, or 111 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, in 2010 after five consecutive years of emission reductions. The annual percentage increase in emissions in 2010 was also the largest of the past 20 years of emissions reported to the UNFCCC. However, such an increase was expected.1
In 2009, the EU witnessed one of deepest economic recessions in modern history, with GDP contracting 4.3% and final energy demand falling by over 5% compared with the previous year. In 2010, the energy intensity of the economy worsened as 3.7% growth in final energy demand outpaced the 2% increase in economic output. Fossil fuels still contribute to approximately three-quarters of the primary energy needs in the EU, so it is not surprising that increased energy demand triggered by economic recovery led to an increase in GHG emissions in 2010. However, economic growth was not the only factor underpinning this.
The winter of 2010 was also colder than in the previous year, leading to increased demand for heating and higher emissions from the residential and commercial sectors. The continued strong growth in renewable energy use and the improved carbon intensity of fossil fuels – underpinned by strong gas consumption – prevented the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from being higher. Moreover, there was also a half percentage point increase in the transformation efficiency in conventional thermal power stations (including district heating) in the EU, rising to 50.4% in 2010. Viewed over a longer timeframe, the increased use of electricity from combined heat and power (cogeneration) and recovery of excess heat have also contributed to higher energy efficiencies in the EU.
Performance at member state level
While most EU countries increased their GHG emissions in 2010, close to 60% of this was accounted for by the UK, Poland and Germany. In the UK, the growth in GHG emissions was mainly the result of a strong increase in demand for heating and residential gas use, triggered by a very cold winter. Nuclear electricity production also fell in 2010 due to maintenance outages at some nuclear stations; more coal and gas were used instead. In Poland, meanwhile, a large share of the increase in emissions was linked to the colder winter and higher consumption of coal, particularly in the heat and power and residential sectors. Finally in Germany, the economy was strong and the increase in GHG emissions was linked to higher industrial production from energy intensive industries, such as iron and steel. Coal and lignite consumption in heat and power stations also increased significantly, partly due to a cold 2010 winter and higher demand for heating. Contrastingly, Spain, Greece and Portugal continued to reduce GHG emissions in 2010.
Changes in the energy mix
In general, GHG emissions increased in the majority of key sectors in 2010, particularly those relying on fossil fuel combustion. CO2 emissions from combusting fossil fuels increased by 2.8% in the EU-27 in 2010 compared with 2009 (100 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent). This was driven by strong growth in emissions from natural gas (7.4%) underpinned by significantly lower gas prices, and higher emissions from solid fuels (4.1%), which were partly offset by lower emissions from the combustion of liquid fuels (-1.3%). Despite the economic recovery in most EU member states in 2010 (compared with 2009), the price of carbon remained relatively stable. This year, energy prices increased particularly for coal and oil products. Gas prices fell markedly in 2010 in the EU as a whole, which partly explains the stronger increase of gas consumption compared with other fossil fuels. This led to an improvement in the carbon intensity of fossil fuel consumption in many member states, which partly offset the increase in GHG emissions in 2010.
As in previous years, strong growth in the use of renewables (12.7%) continued in 2010, offsetting the increase in GHG emissions in the EU. Renewable energy sources with the highest growth rates were wind, solar and hydro for electricity generation. In absolute terms, however, biomass still represented about 70% of the increase in renewables in 2010. Along with the direct carbon benefits from using renewables, there are also energy-efficiency gains as some can produce electricity without any combustion. The avoided transformation losses in thermal power stations that resulted partly explain why emissions did not increase more. In addition to this, nuclear electricity production grew by 2.5% in 2010.
Main increasing sectors
Overall, the sectors covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) increased their emissions more in 2010 than the non-trading sectors (i.e. those outside the EU ETS). This is because most of the biggest industrial installations operate within the EU ETS. Higher industrial activity during 2010, after the huge contraction in 2009, appears to have led to a sharper increase in final energy demand and emissions in that sector. Among the EU ETS sectors, the largest combined increase came from manufacturing industries and construction (including iron and steel process emissions), with 53 million tonnes more CO2 emitted compared with 2009.
The sector that contributed most to higher emissions in the EU in 2010 was, however, residential and commercial, which broadly falls outside the scope of the EU ETS. The key reason for the 43 million tonnes increase in emissions was the cold winter in 2010, which led to higher demand for heating, particularly by households. More than two-thirds of the increase in emissions from households and services in 2010 was accounted for by higher gas use. Viewed over a longer period, however, emission reductions from households (and services) are one of the key reasons for lower greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. One driver has been generally warmer winters in Europe and, correspondingly, less demand for heating. Even though 2009 was colder than 2008, and 2010 colder than 2009, the last two years were still among the warmest since 1850.
The next largest contributor to higher emissions in 2010 was electricity and heat production, with 14 million additional tonnes of CO2 compared with 2009.
Emissions from gas and coal more than offset lower emissions from liquid fuels in the sector. The use of biomass for heat and power also increased strongly in 2010 and continued the upward trend observed since 1990. Heat and electricity production remains the largest contributor to GHG emissions in the EU, accounting for 26%. Again, over the longer period, CO2 emissions from heat and power in the EU have generally decreased, and this is despite a significant increase in fuel use in the sector. The implied emission factor for coal and lignite in the EU-27 was on average 101 tonnes of CO2 per Terajoule in 2010. The emission factor for liquid fuels was 77t CO2/Tj and for gaseous fuels it was 56t CO2/Tj. This means that coal releases around 80% more CO2 than gas to deliver the same amount of energy. In 2010, gas use increased by more than coal use while oil consumption fell, resulting in reduced CO2 emissions per unit of fossil energy generated. The steady increase in biomass use also served as a substitute for fossil fuels.
Emissions did not increase in all sectors
GHG emissions fell in some sectors between 2009 and 2010. Road transport emissions continued to decline in 2010 due to lower gasoline emissions. This was despite the recovery in diesel emissions triggered by a recovery of freight transport demand after two consecutive years of decline. In addition, emissions from international aviation and maritime transport also fell for the third consecutive year. The decline from international shipping was much stronger, reflecting the severity of the economic recession and lower freight transport. Since 1990, however, international transport emissions have grown very rapidly, reaching 6% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions. It is worth noting that emissions from international aviation and maritime transport are not relevant for compliance under the Kyoto Protocol. They are reported in the greenhouse gas inventory as memorandum items, and were responsible for 285 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2010 for the EU as a whole.
Developments by GHG gas
Of the Kyoto GHGs, CO2 accounted for the largest increase in emissions in 2010, with 82% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions CO2 related. The use of hydrofluorocarbons in cooling devices, such as air conditioning and refrigeration, were the other group of GHGs that increased significantly in 2010, continuing the long trend observed since 1990. Emissions declined for nitrous oxide (N2O), which accounted for 7.2% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, and for methane (CH4), which accounted for 8.6%.
The reduction in N2O emissions was mainly due to lower production of adipic acid – a precursor for nylon production. The small reduction in CH4 emissions, meanwhile, was due to lower emissions from enteric fermentation and less waste disposal on land. Viewed over a longer timeframe, the decrease in methane emissions in the period 1990-2010 resulted from lower fugitive emissions from coal mining and post-mining activities, and lower emissions from managed waste disposal on land. Methane from enteric fermentation in the agricultural sector also fell significantly, partly due to reduced livestock numbers but also because of changes in the agricultural management of organic manures. Nitrous oxide emissions decreased strongly because of lower emissions from agricultural soils.
1 Approximated EU GHG inventory: early estimates for 2010: www.eea.europa.eu/publications/approximated-eu-ghg-inventory-2010