1. Executive Summary

Page Last modified 20 Apr 2016
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The European Union is making progress in stabilising emissions of greenhouse gases. There is however considerable uncertainty whether the EU will meet the target of stabilisation of CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. Current measures are insufficient to prevent a further increase in CO2 emissions after 2000. Actions taken to date will not lead to full integration of environmental considerations into economic sectors or to sustainable development. If the EU wants to achieve its targets of avoiding adverse effects on health and ecosystems, an accelerated policy is needed. Substantial reductions of all green house gases are therefore needed.

These are the main conclusions of an assessment of the trends, state and outlook of the environmental theme climate change and the main related target sectors 'energy' and 'transport' in the European Union (EU) by the European Environment Agency (EEA), as requested by GLOBE EU (Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment) for its conference Responding to Climate Change (Linz, Austria, 6 September 1996). The assessment is an update of the assessment reported by the EEA in "Environment in the European Union - 1995; Report for the Review of the Fifth Environmental Action Programme (5EAP)".

The main conclusions of this present assessment are a confirmation of the conclusions of the report mentioned, which showed the following. Some of the pressures on the environment have decreased in recent years. Regarding climate change there have been reductions in the production and consumption of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and its substitutes and some reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (partly due to short-term effects) although in the same period further economic and industrial growth occurred. However to achieve stabilisation of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere a more substantial emission reduction is necessary. The report also concluded that climate change should be one of the key issues on which to focus future policy at the European level. Mitigating climate change will also have significant positive side effects for other environmental issues, such as ozone depletion, acidification, air quality and waste management.


The key strategy of the European Community's 5EAP is to integrate environmental considerations into other policy areas, focusing on five target sectors, therefore aiming to initiate changes in current trends and practices. For the environmental theme of climate change the two most important target sectors are 'energy' and 'transport'. Despite this strategy, the driving forces behind the pressures on the environment have not changed or lessened. Apart from agriculture, all sectors show upward trends, resulting in more energy use and transport mobility.

Energy consumption continues to increase, because improvements in energy efficiency in industry and the domestic sector are counterbalanced by the increased consumption in the transport sector. The most important other trend, resulting in (relatively) less pressure on the environment is the relative reduction in economic and industrial growth rate (despite the completion of the Internal Market).

Since the early 70s, energy intensity (energy consumption per GDP) has decreased mainly due to energy efficiency improvements and changes in the overall structure of the economy. This implies a weakening of the links between GDP, growth in population and energy consumption. However, total gross energy consumption increased steadily between 1980 and 1992 by about 1% per year on average and stabilised during the last years. Implementing the current 5EAP measures (at EU and national level) will hardly lead to any change in these figures. In fact the reductions in energy intensity will be lower. Major underlying factors are the remaining low prices of energy (which discourage energy conservation measures) and the increased use of energy in the transport sector (which counterbalances the lower energy use in industry).

During the last decade the structure of energy supply has changed. The share of solid fuels has fallen, whilst the share of natural gas has increased. It is expected that gas supply will further increase in place of solid fuels. The present share of renewable energy accounts for some 5%, which may increase to 7.5% in 2010.

Environmental pressure from the transport sector shows a steady increase. Forecasts suggest a near doubling of freight road transport and about a 50% increase of passenger road transport between 1990 and 2010. To date, the EU has played a key role in establishing environmental requirements for the transport sector (technical and fuel standards, for example the Auto-Oil Programme) . Apart from introducing further technology-forcing product requirements, the challenge is to design new transport systems including the re-engineering of infrastructure to satisfy mobility demands in a more sustainable way than road transport. Efforts to encourage a decrease in the overall demand for mobility (facilitated, for example, by the "information society") will also be necessary.



The continuing and rapid increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases can cause climate change. The latest Second Assessment Report of IPCC (1995) concluded inter alia that:

  • "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate";
  • "if CO2 emissions were maintained at near current levels, they would lead to a nearly constant rate of increase in atmosuheric concentrations for at least two centuries reaching almost twice the pre-industrial concentration level by the end of the 21S' century";
  • "for the mid-range IPCC scenarios of future emissions, and assuming the best estimate value of climate sensitivity, models project an increase in global mean temperature, relative to 1990, of about 2°C by the year 2100 (the uncertainty range is 1-3.5°C)".

Timing is a key issue in climate change. There is a considerable time delay between a reduction of the emissions of these gases and stabilisation of atmospheric concentrations. Once climate change has become manifest, it will show an irreversible character or, when actions are undertaken, a long recovery time. Furthermore, there are the societal time-lags inherent in, for example: raising public awareness, development and timing of policy actions, and fully implementing these measures (taking into account the relatively short turnover of capital goods).

Geographical distribution of climate change policies is another key issue. The global average annual per capita emissions of CO2 due to the combustion of fossil fuels is at present about 4 tonnes, in developed and transitional economy countries about 10 tonnes and in developing countries about 2 tonnes. The European Union is aiming to set emission targets for the year 2005 and 2010. This target setting will require an extensive discussion and agreement on the allocation of these targets, and will be influenced by equity and efficiency issues with respect to the developing countries


In the period 1980 to 1990 the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (CO2-eq.) increased 15 %, mainly due to a growth of the CO2 emissions in the other, less industrialised, countries. From 1990 global CO2 emissions did not grow, mainly due to the economic recession/restructuring in the CEE and CIS countries. The emissions of CFC have decreased in this period, resulting in a decrease of global GHG emissions (CO2-eq) of 5 % from 1990 to 1994. However, GHG emissions (CO2-eq) in OECD countries have increased, whereas the UNFCCC target is to stabilise the emissions between 1990 and 2000.

After a period of steady increase, total emissions of carbon dioxide in the European Union fell slightly (2%) between 1990 and 1994, mainly due to short-term factors, such as the temporary decrease of industrial and economic growth rates, the restructuring of industry in Germany, the closing of coal mines in the UK, and the conversion of power plants to natural gas. Although CO2 emissions from industry and the energy sector have decreased, emissions from the transport sector show an increase.

The emissions of the other greenhouse gases nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) show some decrease between 1990 and 1994. However it should be noted that the uncertainty of the emission data of these pollutants is much higher than for CO2.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their substitutes (HCFCs) are other relevant greenhouse gases. These pollutants furthermore cause depletion of the ozone layer. At present, this problem is universally recognised and international negotiations on the tightening of limitations (eg, of CFC production as proposed in the Montreal protocol) have accelerated. In this regard, the European Union is playing a pioneering role. The production and consumption of CFCs show a decreasing trend: an 80% reduction between 1986 and 1994. The 1994 target for halons has been reached. The production of HCFCs (targeted for complete phase out by 2015) has increased during the period 1986-1994 as a result of the substitution for previous uses of CFCs.

The atmospheric concentrations of GHGs, inter alia CO2, CH4 and N2O, have grown significantly since pre-industrial times: by about 30%, 145% and 15% respectively. In the same period global mean surface air temperature has increased by between about 0.3 and 0.6 degrees Celcius.


Achieving the target of stabilisation of EU CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000 seems to be the cornerstone of EU environmental policy. There is, however, great uncertainty about whether the EU will meet this target. There is a range of estimates, depending on the scenarios used. However, most scenario studies indicate an increase of emissions up to 5% in 2000, compared to 1990. The main causes of uncertainty are: continuous transport growth, continuing low energy prices, the slow improvement of energy efficiency and the fact that many of the measures in National Programmes will not be completed before 2000. The proposal for one of the key measures at the Community level (the energy/carbon tax) has not been adopted, but some Member States (Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden) have already introduced such taxes to date. However, the contribution of these countries to the total EUR 15 emissions of CO2 is not large.

Current measures are insufficient to prevent a further increase in CO2 emissions after 2000 as a result of the expected growth of production, consumption and transport. However, to achieve the stabilisation of the concentration of greenhouse gases at the lowest possible level in the shortest possible time, substantial emission reductions are necessary. The EU has declared that global average temperatures should not exceed 2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial level. To reduce major risks for ecosystems, food production and sensitive coastal areas, emissions in industrialised countries (including the EU) should be reduced by minimal 30 to 55% in 2010 compared to 1990, depending on the baseline emissions in the developing countries.

Recognising the need for full integration of environmental considerations into economic sectors the Agency's contribution - from reliable and comparable information on the environment through integrated assessments to regular reporting - is to support this process.



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