Press Release

Europe's energy policies must be environmentally sound

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Press Release Published 27 Jun 2006 Last modified 21 Apr 2016
6 min read
Europe requires an integrated policy framework balancing the goals of energy security and competitiveness with environment policy, says a new report released today by the European Environment Agency (EEA), based in Copenhagen.

PRESS RELEASE - Copenhagen, Tuesday, 27th June, 2006

The report, 'Energy and environment in the European Union: Tracking progress towards integration,' says that Europe's future energy supply should be based on a portfolio of technologies. Reduced consumption must also play a role in securing supply and protecting the environment.

"In the context of rising oil and gas prices and increasing concerns about energy security, it is timely to stress that environmental sustainability must be treated as an equal to securing energy supply," said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA.

The report, which assesses trends in the energy sector in Europe between 1990 and 2003, was released to coincide with today's Environment council meeting in Luxembourg. The report builds on a set of indicators measuring progress towards integration of environmental considerations within the energy sector, as demanded by the Cardiff process.

Environmental pressures from energy production were reduced between 1990 and 2003, the report says. Since 1990 air pollutant emissions from energy production and consumption have been reduced substantially, but further reductions are still necessary to achieve long term air quality targets. Environmental pressures from electricity production were also reduced as a result of a switch from coal to gas as well as abatement measures. However, since 1999/2000 this positive trend has slowed and even reversed in some countries. In particular, energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases have been increasing in recent years.

Technological advances, such as more efficient power plants, the introduction of abatement measures (catalytic converters in cars, flue gas desulphurisation in power plants, for example) and increasing renewable energy options (bioenergy, wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal) are being undermined by surges in consumption. This is due to rising demand for transport and electricity, which continue to rely on fossil fuels.

The report also notes that an acceptable method of dealing with waste from nuclear power stations has yet to be identified and implemented.

"The role of nuclear power is currently being discussed in some Member States in the context of climate change and energy security. It is important to ensure that a nuclear option does not starve new alternative energy technologies of crucial financial support or undermine an emphasis on energy efficiency," Professor McGlade said.

The report notes a window of opportunity for an environmentally-sustainable energy sector as many European countries discuss how to upgrade or replace out-dated power plants.

"Ensuring a long-term integrated energy framework is urgent due to the imminent need for investment in energy production infrastructure. This opens up opportunities for an environmentally-sustainable development of the energy sector enhancing renewable energy and energy efficiency, Professor McGlade said.

Notes to the editor:

About the European Environment Agency (EEA): The EEA is based in Copenhagen. The agency aims to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy makers and the public.

Web links
You can access the report here:

Note: The data in this report covers the period between 1990 and 2003. The EEA recently launched the 2006 greenhouse gas emissions inventory report for Europe. This report contains data on greenhouse gases for 2004 and can be accessed here:

Key Trends in Energy Production 1990 -2003
Key trend 1: Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions resume upward trend after decreases in the 1990s, putting long-term reduction targets at risk.

Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.6 % between 1990 and 2003, but have been rising slowly since 1999. A major contributing factor to the recent increase is higher electricity production from coal power plants. In addition, there is a long-term trend of growing transport emissions due to increased transport volumes. This has offset much of the improvements achieved in other sectors. Further substantial decreases of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are required in order to meet long-term emission reduction targets proposed by the EU.

Key trend 2: Energy-related air pollutant emissions decline but air quality continues to have adverse effects on health and ecosystems.

Energy-related emissions of acidifying substances, tropospheric ozone precursors and particles decreased by 56 %, 41 % and 47 % between 1990 and 2003, respectively. These reductions were driven by the enhanced use of abatement techniques, energy efficiency improvements and fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Since 2000, the decline in some air pollutant emissions has slowed due to a continuing rise in energy consumption and a renewed increase in the use of coal. Despite reduced emissions of air pollutants, air quality in many cities does not yet meet the limit values set by European legislation. Moreover, human health and ecosystems are still adversely affected. Further emission reductions are needed to achieve long-term air quality targets.

Key trend 3: Fossil fuels continue to dominate energy consumption but abatement measures and fuel switching have reduced environmental pressures.

Combustion of fossil fuels is the main cause of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and accounts for almost 80 % of total energy consumption and 55 % of electricity production. Some of these environmental pressures were reduced between 1990 and 2003. One of the main reasons for falling greenhouse emissions was the shift from coal to cleaner natural gas in electricity production, although this fuel switch has slowed since 1999. Oil consumption grew as a result of increased transport volumes and oil continues to be the most important fuel in total energy consumption. The share of nuclear power remained almost constant.

Key trend 4: Energy consumption continues to grow, making it more difficult to reduce energy-related environmental pressures

Final energy consumption in the EU-25 increased by 11.6 % between 1990 and 2003. This trend is expected to continue unless additional energy saving measures are implemented. Rising personal incomes and changes in lifestyle with subsequent growing transport volumes led to an increase in energy consumption of households, services and transport. Transport is now the largest consumer of final energy. At the same time energy consumption in industry decreased as a result of energy efficiency improvements and a shift from energy-intensive industries to services. Electricity consumption increased particularly rapidly due to its attractiveness and flexibility in end-use, a growth of the services sector and an increase in the ownership of electrical appliances.

Key trend 5: Overall shares of renewables in total energy and electricity consumption remain at low levels despite large increases of some renewable options.

The production of energy and electricity from renewable energy sources grew steadily between 1990 and 2003, with particularly large increases in wind and solar electricity. However, the increase in the share of renewables in total energy and electricity consumption was limited due to rising energy and electricity consumption and less hydropower production as a result of low rainfall in 2002 and 2003. These factors offset the increase of renewables compared to total consumption. In 2003, the share of renewables in total energy consumption and gross electricity consumption was 6 % and 12.8 %, respectively. A significant further expansion will be needed to meet the EU indicative targets of a 12 % share in total energy consumption and 21 % share in gross electricity consumption by 2010.

Key trend 6: Most energy prices have been increasing since around 2000 after significant reductions during the 1990s. Tax levels increased since 1990, but external costs have not been fully internalised.

With the exception of transport, energy prices for most fuels decreased during the 1990s before starting to increase again around 2000. This increase is mostly due to rising global oil and gas prices. These price rises led to increased calls for enhanced energy saving measures. Throughout the 1990s, price levels were not high enough to offer much incentive for energy savings. Tax levels increased over the entire period, which may indicate that external costs of energy consumption, due to environmental effects, were internalised to a greater extent than in previous years. Nevertheless, tax levels generally remain below the estimated environmental external costs.

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