Greenhouse gases and climate change - Environment in EU at the turn of the century (Chapter 3.1)

Global and European annual mean air temperatures have increased by 0.3-0.6° C since 1900. 1998 was globally the warmest year on record. International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) climate models predict further increases, above 1990 levels, of about 2° C by the year 2100, with higher rises in the north of Europe than the south. It is unlikely that stable, potentially sustainable, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will be realised before 2050. If further temperature increases are to be limited to 1.5° C by 2100 and to 0.1° C per decade, and sea levels are to rise no more than 2 cm per decade, industrialised countries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 35 percent between 1990 and 2010.

In the EU, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell about 1 % between 1990 and 1996 (3 % between 1990-1995), with considerable variation between the Member States – thanks to a combination of low economic growth, increases in energy efficiency and the effects of policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Specific circumstances in the UK (switch from coal to gas) and Germany (economic restructuring of the new Länder) also played a significant role.

The EU aims, initially, to stabilise CO2 emissions in 2000 at the level of 1990. EU15 CO2 emissions by 2000 are projected to be within +/-2 % of the 1990 levels, suggesting that the stabilisation target could be achieved. Under the 1997 so-called ‘Kyoto agreement’ (United Nations Forum on Climate Change Convention — UNFCCC), the EU aims to reduce emissions of the main six greenhouse gases by 8 % in 2008-2012 from 1990 levels. Forest carbon sinks in Europe can only achieve up to 1 % of these reductions. Various new “flexibility” or “Kyoto mechanisms” introduced in the Kyoto Protocol – emissions trading and joint implementation among industrialised countries and the “clean development mechanism” between industrialised and developing countries – need to be further elaborated at the latest by 2000, by means of the UNFCCC Buenos Aires action plan.

EU15 total greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase under the baseline scenario by 6 percent between 1990 and 2010. The increase in CO2 emissions is appreciably less than the increase in total energy consumption — mainly due to a shift from solid to gaseous fuels. The main driving force for increasing CO2 emissions comes from the transport sector — transport emissions are projected to increase about 40 % by 2010; industrial CO2 emissions are projected to fall by 15 % by 2010, while little change is expected in the domestic/ tertiary and power and heat producing sectors. EU total methane emissions are projected to fall 8 %, while nitrous oxide emissions are projected to rise 9 %, and fluorocarbons, currently a minor contributor to total greenhouse gas emissions, will increase 40 %.

The Kyoto target requires about 600 Mtonnes (in CO2 equivalent) reduction in emissions below the projected emissions in 2010. The total technical reduction potential for measures to reduce emissions of all six greenhouse gases, with costs below 50 EURO/tonne, is estimated to be considerably more than what is needed to achieve the Kyoto target. This shows that the EU’s use of “Kyoto mechanisms” could be limited. Member States have adopted various measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including in some cases a CO2 tax, although a comprehensive EU-wide energy and products tax has not been adopted.

CO2 emissions in the Accession Countries are projected to fall 8 %. Based on the limited information available, total greenhouse gas emissions of these countries in 2010 are estimated to fall 11 % from 1990 levels. Combined with the projected 6 % increase for the EU15, this would mean a 2 % increase in emissions of a potentially enlarged EU by 2010 from 1990 levels.

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