EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 4% in 2019, data shows | Greenhouse gas emissions

EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 4% in 2019, data shows | Greenhouse gas emissions


The EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 4% in 2019, data from Europe’s environmental watchdog has shown, as countries met online for the first time in UN climate negotiations.

The fall of 3.8% for EU member states in 2019 brought EU emissions to 24% below 1990 levels – or 26% if carbon sinks are taken into account – according to the European Environment Agency.

The EU’s target is for a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels and including carbon sinks, so if similar cuts can be continued for the next decade then the bloc is likely to meet its goals. The UK has its own targets, of a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 and a 78% cut by 2035.

The EEA said about 80% of the EU’s reduction in emissions in 2019 was from the heat and power sector. But the EU’s emissions from transport have continued to rise, meaning new policies and investment are likely to be needed to meet the bloc’s future emissions targets.

Campaigners have said the EU’s CO2 goals are not stretching enough, though member states argue they are tougher than most other countries.

Lorelei Limousin, a climate and transport campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “Europe must rapidly phase out fossil fuels and produce vastly more of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power. But Europe also has to consume much less energy overall, including in the transport sector where emissions are actually increasing.

“The EU needs to transform transport. Internal combustion engines, aviation subsidies and short-haul flights should all be phased out. Europe needs a shift from air and road travel to rail wherever possible, and to increase access to public transport for all.”

The confirmation of the EU’s emissions fall came as nations embarked on three weeks of online UN climate negotiations, to prepare for the crunch Cop26 climate talks later this year. Cop26 will be held in Glasgow this November, postponed from last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In normal years, the UN convenes two weeks of preparatory talks at its climate headquarters in Bonn, about six months before each climate Cop (conference of the parties). This year, Covid-related travel restrictions mean the talks are taking place online for the first time, and have been expanded to three weeks.

There have been months of discussion over whether and how some of the negotiations necessary for a successful Cop26 can take place online. Developing countries are particularly concerned, as many have limited communications and staff capacity to undertake complex negotiations virtually.

They are also keen that their agreement to conduct some negotiations online should not be taken as a sign that Cop26 itself can take place virtually, as many are adamant that the talks must take place in person. The UK, as host nation, has sought to reassure developing countries on this score, pledging to explore vaccinations and testing to ensure the talks can take place in person. The preparatory talks will not have full formal status, as any decisions made will have to be formally confirmed at a later date.

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Pressure on the UK as Cop26 approaches

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Pressure on the UK as Cop26 approaches

Campaigners and climate experts have been increasingly concerned about a series of government actions that appear to be out of step with the government’s commitment to net zero emissions, ahead of hosting vital UN climate talks, called Cop26, this November in Glasgow. As host and president of the talks, the UK will have to bring squabbling nations together to agree to slash emissions drastically in the next ten years, and reach net zero emissions by mid-century.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said the government must reject airport expansion to show leadership at Cop26: “If true, pausing the plans is a sign that the government is starting to clock the catastrophic impacts of this proposed expansion. But we’re just months away from hosting critical global climate talks, and this climate-wrecking mega project is clearly incompatible with our plans to cut emissions, so why only delay the decision and not just call it in now? Quashing the expansion plans before the global climate summit begins would be a real show of climate leadership.”

Green groups received assurances from civil servants in 2019 that decisions on new infrastructure that could increase greenhouse gas emissions would take account of the government’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. However, the supreme court ruled last December that the government’s commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement could effectively be ignored in the decision to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow.

A group of more than 130 prominent scientists, academics and lawyers, including former Nasa scientist James Hansen, and UK former chief scientist Sir David King, last week wrote to the government expressing concern over the supreme court ruling, and warning that the government’s international climate commitments were being ignored. They wrote: “The highest court in the UK has set a precedent that major national projects can proceed even where they are inconsistent with maintaining the temperature limit on which our collective survival depends. Indeed, the precedent goes further still. It says that the government is not bound even to consider the goals of an agreement that is near universally agreed. Not only does that undermine the UK’s status as a champion of the Paris agreement just ahead of Cop26. It also substantially reduces humanity’s prospects of maintaining that limit and hence averting disaster.”

Other recent controversial decisions, such as the government’s initial backing for the Cumbrian coal mine, and a new round of licences granted to extract oil and gas from the North Sea, have also raised concerns. The government has scrapped its main green recovery measure, the green homes grant, which was intended to create thousands of green jobs by helping households to install insulation, and cut incentives to buy electric cars.

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Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s top climate official, said the preparatory talks were vital to sort out some of the remaining sticking points in the “Paris rulebook”, a set of technical agreements necessary to bring the 2015 Paris accord into full operation. One of these sticking points, known as article 6, concerns the workings of CO2 markets, and a failure to agree on it disrupted the last UN climate talks, held in Madrid in 2019.

Espinosa said: “It’s time to wrap up outstanding negotiations and implement the Paris agreement. Time is running out for the world to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement. Unleashing its full potential will not only address climate change but help the world build forward from Covid-19 and drive the transformation towards a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future.”

Although no breakthrough is expected in the three weeks of preparatory talks, observers will be watching keenly for signs of progress, or of discord among nations that could presage a difficult passage to Cop26 in November. If the talks go well, nations can move on from some of the more bureaucratic aspects to talks of greater substance.

Most major countries have now signed up to a long-term target of reaching net zero emissions around mid-century. More important, however, are plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions this decade, in line with scientific advice that found global carbon must be halved by 2030 to keep the world within a 1.5C (2.7F) rise in temperatures, above pre-industrial levels.

These plans, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs), are the bedrock of the Paris accord, but current NDCs are still inadequate to meet the Paris goals.

Developed countries must also come up with billions more in financial assistance to the poor world, to help poor countries cut greenhouse gases and cope with the impacts of climate breakdown, if Cop26 is to be a success.



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