Europe’s a mess, but it’s meeting its climate goals

These days, the news about Europe tends to be unrelentingly negative, so here’s something slightly different. The European Union is still on track to meet its climate-change goals under the Kyoto Protocol, according to new data released Wednesday.

Under the Kyoto treaty, 15 European Union countries committed to reducing their overall greenhouse gases 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. (The other countries have individual targets, save for Malta and Cyprus.) Even though the continent’s emissions grew in 2010, thanks to a brief economic recovery and a cold winter, the E.U.-15’s emissions are still 11 percent below 1990 levels overall.

There's plenty of data in these charts from the European Environment Agency. Between 1990 and 2012, some countries, like Germany and Denmark, have reduced their carbon emissions by quite a bit, which has offset rises in countries like Spain and Portugal.


(Source: European Environment Agency)

Note that the United Kingdom and Germany are the runaway leaders in carbon-cutting. A big chunk of those cuts is typically ascribed to two factors. Germany saw a huge one-time drop in emissions after reunification, since a bunch of inefficient power plants and factories in the East closed down. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, made a massive switch from coal to electric gas in the 1990s after its electricity industry was privatized. That made a big difference, since those two countries are Europe’s biggest emitters. But neither of those events are likely to repeat themselves.

Meanwhile, here are the economic sectors where Europe has made cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.


(Source: European Environment Agency)

Manufacturing and industrial processes have taken a big hit, which is consistent with other analyses suggesting that Europe has “outsourced” a lot of its manufacturing emissions abroad. But there are still a few areas — from waste to energy to agriculture — where Europe appears to have made considerable progress. One place where emissions have gone up, however, is in transportation. No matter how efficient planes and cars get, people are still driving and flying more frequently—and, as yet, there’s no good substitute for oil to take people around. (The E.U.’s cap-and-trade system also doesn't cover transportation.)

The E.U. has proposed extending the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of this year, but countries like Canada, Japan and Russia have declined to join. The United States refused joined and the pact never covered developing countries like China or India. Which means, on this treaty at least, Europe has been going alone.

Related: An update on where the world is in negotiating a successor to Kyoto.

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