Background information - International climate commitments in Europe

Briefing Published 08 Nov 2016 Last modified 06 Dec 2016
20 min read
This section presents the main climate change mitigation targets and objectives taken by the European Union and other member countries of the European Environment Agency, in particular under the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
Background information - International climate commitments in Europe
  • The Paris Agreement, which was adopted by 195 countries in December 2015, sets a long-term goal of ensuring that the increase in the global average temperature is well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, with the aim of limiting the increase to no more than 1.5 °C. The agreement is due to enter into force in 2020.
  • The European Council has endorsed the objective of reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by between 80 and 95 % by 2050, compared with 1990 levels, in the context of necessary reductions to be collectively achieved by developed countries, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • The European Union (EU), its Member States and other European Environment Agency (EEA) member countries are committed to limiting or reducing their GHG emissions under international commitments, in particular the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol. For the first commitment period (2008–2012), the EU-15 had a common reduction target of 8 % compared with base-year levels (close to 1990 levels). For the second commitment period (2013–2020), the EU and Iceland committed to cutting their emissions by 20 %, compared with base-year levels, by 2020.

1. The UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris agreement

In 1992, countries across the globe adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order to cooperatively consider options for limiting average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change. Under the UNFCCC, developed country parties (Annex I parties) [1] are specifically obliged to commit to adopting national policies and to take corresponding measures for the mitigation of climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol was the first international legally binding agreement signed under the UNFCCC. It specifies the mitigation obligations of the Annex I parties that signed the agreement. It was signed in 1997 and entered into force in 2005. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ran from 2008 until 2012. In this first period, 37 industrialised countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of 5 % compared with 1990 levels.

In Doha, Qatar, in 2012 (at the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) and the eighth meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 8)), the second commitment period (2013–2020) was delineated; the Doha Amendment (UNFCCC, 2012a) includes new, quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments (QELRCs) for Annex I parties intending to take part in the second commitment period. Overall, the Doha Amendment sets an emission reduction objective of 18 % less than 1990 levels for all parties to the Kyoto Protocol for the second commitment period (see Table A1.1). The Doha Amendment’s entry into force is subject to acceptance by at least three-quarters of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol [2]. Although the EU and its 28 Member States, and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland (i.e. all European Environment Agency (EEA) countries) agreed on QELRCs for the second commitment period, other countries, such as Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia, did not submit targets for the second commitment period (despite having targets under the first commitment period). Overall, emissions by countries with targets for the second commitment period make up only 14 to 15 % of global emissions (EC, 2013).

The EU has been at the forefront of international efforts towards a global climate deal. After limited participation in the Kyoto Protocol and the lack of an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, the EU has been building a broad coalition of developed and developing countries in favour of high ambition; this shaped the successful outcome of the Paris conference (COP 21). The Paris Agreement is a bridge between today’s policies and climate neutrality before the end of the 21st century. Governments have agreed on a long-term goal of ensuring that the increase in global average temperature does not exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, aiming to limit the increase to no more than 1.5 °C, as this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change.

Before and during the Paris conference, countries submitted comprehensive national climate action plans (intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)). These are not yet sufficient to keep global warming levels below 2 °C, but the agreement will help towards achieving this target. The EU was the first major economy to submit its intended contribution to the new agreement in March 2015. It is already taking steps to implement its target to reduce emissions by at least 40 % by 2030. The agreement opened for signature for 1 year on 22 April 2016 and will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55 % of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

2. Achievements of the European Union under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012)

The Kyoto Protocol was ratified by the European Union (EU) when it was constituted of 15 Member States. Under the first commitment period, the 15 EU Member States (EU-15) pledged to jointly reduce their GHG emissions by 8 % compared with base-year levels (base-year levels are roughly equivalent to 1990 levels) [3]. To determine the contribution of each Member State in meeting this overall target, differentiated emission limitation or reduction targets were agreed for each of the 15, pre-2004 Member States under an EU accord known as the Burden-sharing Agreement (EC, 2006).

Although the 15 pre-2004 Member States had a joint target, 11 of the 13 countries that became EU Member States in 2004, 2007 or 2013 ratified the Kyoto Protocol separately and therefore had individual targets under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period. The EU-28 did not have a target under the first commitment period. Cyprus and Malta did not have targets either, as they became Annex I parties to the convention (i.e. the UNFCCC) in 2013 and 2010, respectively (UNFCCC, 2009, 2011).

Of the other EEA member countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland had individual targets under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period. Turkey, which acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in February 2009, had no quantified emission reduction commitment. Despite being an Annex I party to the UNFCCC, Turkey was not included in the Kyoto Protocol’s Annex B in which individual targets for Annex I parties are listed, because it was not a party to the UNFCCC when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted [4].

The EU and its Member States have met their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008–2012). For the whole 2008–2012 period, the EU’s total emissions, excluding Cyprus and Malta, which had no targets, were around 19 % below the sum of base-year emissions, not including the additional reductions as a result of carbon sinks (from the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector) and international credits. The EU-15 achieved an overall reduction of 11.7 % domestically, not including the additional reductions resulting from carbon sinks (from the LULUCF sector) and international credits.

3. Progress of the European Union under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020)

For the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the EU, its 28 Member States and Iceland agreed to a joint QELRC corresponding to a 20 % reduction compared with the base year; they declared that they intended to fulfil this commitment jointly, under Article 4 of the Kyoto Protocol. The three other EEA member countries, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, also agreed on QELRCs for the second commitment period.

The Council adopted, on 13 July 2015, the legislation necessary for the EU to formally ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The Council adopted two decisions:

  • Council decision on the ratification of the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol establishing the second commitment period;
  • Council decision on the agreement between the EU, its Member States and Iceland, necessary for the joint fulfilment of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

In parallel with ratification by the EU, the individual Member States and Iceland will finalise their national ratification processes; however, the second commitment period has not yet been ratified by the EU.

Table 0.1        Emission reduction commitments by EU and EEA countries for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period (2013–2020)

Party

QELRCs submitted by parties (2013–2020)

Reduction compared with base-year emissions

EU

20.0 %

Iceland

20.0 %

Liechtenstein

16.0 %

Norway

16.0 %

Switzerland

15.8 %

Source: UNFCCC, 2012a.

4. Methodological details related to targets under the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC

First commitment period

For the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the targets (expressed in emission budgets for the whole period) were based on the following methodological assumptions and conditions:

  • The gases covered are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), consistent with the GHGs covered by the reporting requirements under the UNFCCC;
  • Emissions of non-CO2 gases are converted into CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq.) emissions using global warming potential (GWP) values included in the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC, 1996);
  • 1990 is defined as the base year, but flexibility rules can be applied on fluorinated gases (F-gases) and for economies in transition contained in Article 3(5) of the Kyoto Protocol;
  • The target covers the following sectors: energy, industrial processes and product use (IPPU), agriculture and waste. Emissions or removals from LULUCF are included, while emissions from international aviation and shipping are excluded;
  • Certain emission credits can be used to achieve targets, under the Kyoto flexible mechanisms.

Second commitment period

The main amendments to Kyoto Protocol rules for the second commitment period (from 2013 to 2020), compared with the rules that were applicable in the first commitment period (from 2008 to 2012), are as follows:

  • In addition to the gases covered in the first commitment period, the target for the second commitment period also covers nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).
  • An ambition mechanism allows a party to adjust its commitment by increasing its ambition during a commitment period.
  • Surplus assigned amount units (AAUs) from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol can be carried over according to specific accounting rules (for further details, see EEA, 2014)).
  • The AAUs of a party for the second commitment period can be adjusted in order to prevent an increase in its emissions for the 2013 to 2020 period, beyond its average emissions for the years 2008 to 2010.
  • New accounting rules for emissions removals from LULUCF according to the relevant decisions made at COP 17 in Durban (UNFCCC, 2012b).
  • Emissions of non-CO2 gases are converted into CO2-equivalent emissions using the GWP values included in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (IPCC, 2007).

However, a number of rules are unchanged for the second commitment period. As in the first commitment period, the target for the second commitment period refers to 1990 as a single base year, but allows for different base years according to the flexibility rules for F-gases and economies in transition (as described above). For the newly added GHG NF3, either 1995 or 2000 may be used as the base year. Base years for individual Member States have not yet been set for the second commitment period. The use of certified emission reductions (CERs) from the clean development mechanism, emission reduction units (ERUs) [5] from joint implementation projects and the possible recognition of units from new market-based mechanisms are all possible in order to achieve targets (still capped under EU domestic legislation). Sector coverage remains the same.

Convention (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

In 2010, the EU submitted a pledge to reduce its GHG emissions by 20 % by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, in order to contribute to achieving the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC: ‘to stabilise GHG concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system’, or, in other words, to limit the global temperature increase to less than 2 °C above temperature levels before industrialisation. The EU clarified that the accounting rules for its target under the UNFCCC are more ambitious than the current rules under the Kyoto Protocol; for example, international aviation has been included, an annual compliance cycle for emissions under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) has been added and there are higher quality standards for emission credits from the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism (CDM) used under the ETS (UNFCCC, 2013b). Accordingly, the following assumptions and conditions apply to the EU’s target of a 20 % reduction under the UNFCCC:

  • Emissions or removals from LULUCF are not included (but moving to the higher target of 30 % would require some contribution from LULUCF).
  • The target refers to 1990 as a single base year, not allowing for different base years for F-gases or economies in transition, as under the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Emissions from international and domestic aviation are partly included in the target; furthermore, the target covers the IPCC sectors of energy, industrial processes and product use (IPPU), agriculture and waste.
  • A limited number of CERs, ERUs and units from new market-based mechanisms may be used to achieve the target: under the EU ETS, the use of international credits is capped (up to 50 % of the reduction required from EU ETS sectors by 2020 can be achieved through the use of carbon credits). Quality standards also apply to the use of international credits in the EU ETS, including a ban on credits from LULUCF projects and certain industrial gas projects. In the ESD sectors, the annual use of international credits is limited to up to 3 % of each Member State’s ESD emissions in 2005, with a limited number of Member States being permitted to use an additional 1 % from projects in the least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS), subject to conditions. These caps thus define the concept of the supplementary use of market-based mechanisms for the fulfilment of targets, and indicate that the EU applies more ambitious rules with regard to the use of market-based mechanisms to its target under the UNFCCC than would be applied in the context of the Kyoto Protocol.
  • The carry-over of surplus AAUs from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is not possible (but surplus EU emission allowances allocated under the EU ETS can be banked from the 2008–2012 period into subsequent periods).
  • The target covers the gases CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6, consistent with the GHGs covered under the reporting requirements under the convention (UNFCCC, 2013b).

 

5. Land use, land-use change and forestry activities under the Kyoto Protocol

In addition to policies and measures that target sources of GHG emissions, countries can use policies and measures to protect their existing terrestrial carbon stocks (e.g. by reducing deforestation) and further enhance terrestrial carbon stocks (e.g. by increasing the area or carbon density of forests).

The following LULUCF activities are included under the Kyoto Protocol:

  • Afforestation, reforestation and deforestation (ARD) since 1990 (mandatory activities covered by Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol), for land that has been subject to direct, human-induced conversion from a non-forest to a forest state, or vice versa, are included.
  • Forest management (FM), cropland management (CM), grazing-land management (GM) and revegetation (RV) are included. Although CM, GM and RV are voluntary, FM has been a mandatory activity since the second commitment period under Article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol. These activities pertain to land that has not undergone conversion since 1990, but is otherwise subject to a specific land activity. Parties account for net emissions or removals for each activity during the commitment period by issuing removal units (RMUs) [6], in the case of net GHG removals from LULUCF activities, or by cancelling Kyoto units in the case of LULUCF activities that are a net source of GHG emissions. LULUCF activities can therefore be used to offset emissions from other sources if removals are higher than emissions from this sector. In the first commitment period, the number of RMUs that could be issued by each party under FM was capped (UNFCCC, 2006). For the second commitment period, FM activities are accounted for against an ‘FM reference level’, i.e. a country-specific level of business-as-usual emissions or removals. RMUs are issued only if FM removals are higher or emissions are lower than the agreed FM reference level. Otherwise, Kyoto units are cancelled.

RMUs can be accounted for at the end of a commitment period or annually. According to Decision 13/CMP.1, parties must indicate the frequency of accounting with their initial reports. For each activity under Article 3.3 and Article 3.4, parties have elected to account for emissions or removals either annually during the commitment period, or only once at the end of this period. The decision on frequency of accounting determines when parties can issue RMUs or cancel other units in the case of emissions from Article 3.3 and Article 3.4 activities.

For the second commitment period, new accounting rules apply for the accounting of emissions and removals in the LULUCF sector. In particular, additional activities for wetland management can be accounted for on a voluntary basis. Guidelines for these new rules were developed by the IPCC and adopted by the UNFCCC. Subsequently, the rules were almost entirely transferred into EU law in the form of EU Decision 529/2013/EU ‘on accounting rules on greenhouse gas emissions and removals resulting from activities relating to land use, land-use change and forestry and on information concerning actions relating to those activities’ (EU, 2013b). This legislation harmonises EU reporting on LULUCF with Kyoto Protocol requirements, but also goes beyond these requirements. Under EU rules, Member States must also report on agricultural activities (CM and GM), irrespective of whether or not these activities are elected under the Kyoto Protocol.

LULUCF emissions and removals are not included in the EU domestic 2020 target under the climate and energy package.

 

6. Emissions from aviation

Although GHG emissions from domestic and international aviation have been partly included in the EU’s target under the UNFCCC since 2012 as part of the EU ETS, only emissions from domestic aviation are included in its targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Domestic aviation from the EU Member States amounts to less than 0.5 % of total GHG emissions without LULUCF, whereas the international aviation of EU Member States totals about 3 % of total emissions.

In principle, the EU ETS covers all flights arriving at, and departing from, airports in all EU Member States, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and closely related territories. However, since 2012, flights to and from aerodromes from other countries have not been included in the EU ETS. This exclusion, first resulting from the ‘stop the clock’ decision (EU, 2013a) was made in order to facilitate the negotiation of a global agreement on aviation emissions in autumn 2013 by the General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). At its 38th meeting in autumn 2013, the ICAO decided on a roadmap for the development of a global market-based mechanism to tackle aviation emissions. By 2016, the body will decide on a mechanism to be implemented by 2020.

The EU decided to continue with a reduced scope in the 2013–2016 period (EU, 2014). Only flights between aerodromes located in countries in the European Economic Area are included in this scope. Flights to and from outermost regions, as per Article 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), are covered if they occur only in the same outermost region.

More than 1 200 aviation operators are currently included in the EU ETS. The cap for aviation in the EU ETS is based on average historic emissions in this sector between 2004 and 2006 (221.4 Mt CO2 for all participating countries) [7]. The cap for the 2013–2020 period is equivalent to 95 % of baseline emissions (EU, 2009). Whereas aircraft operators may use EU aviation allowances (EUAAs) as well as EU allowances (EUAs) from the stationary sectors, stationary installations are not permitted to use aviation allowances for compliance. In addition, some international credits can be used by aircraft operators: up to 14 % of their verified emissions in 2012, and, from 2013 onwards, each aircraft operator is entitled to use international credits up to a maximum of 1.5 % of its verified emissions during the period from 2013 to 2020, without prejudice to any residual entitlement from 2012.

Endnotes

[1]   A party is a state (or regional economic integration organisation such as the EU) that agrees to be bound by a treaty and for which the treaty has entered into force. Annex I parties are those listed in Annex I of the UNFCCC; they comprise industrialised countries that were members of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992, as well as countries with economies in transition (UNFCCC, 2014).

[2]   As of 28 May 2015, 32 countries had ratified the Doha Amendment. Decisions on the implementation of Article 3.7 ter of the Doha amendment, on the carry-over, from one commitment period to the next, and rules on reporting for parties without commitments for the second commitment period are still pending under the UNFCCC.

[3]   The target refers to 1990 as a single base year, but is subject to the flexibility rules, regarding fluorinated gases (F-gases) and economies in transition, of Article 3(5) of the Kyoto Protocol. This paragraph stipulates that parties included in Annex I undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, whose base year or period was established by Decision 9/CP.2 of the COP, are to use that base year or period for the implementation of their commitments. Furthermore, 1995 may be used as a base year for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Accordingly, 1990 is used as a base year for emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) for all countries except Bulgaria (1988), Hungary (average of 1985 to 1987), Slovenia (1986), Poland (1988) and Romania (1989); and 1995 is used as a base year for F-gases (HFCs, PFCs and SF6) for all countries except Austria, Croatia, France, Italy and Slovakia (all 1990), and Romania (1989).

[4]   See also the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol target information online (UNFCCC, 2013a).

[5]   A Kyoto unit representing an allowance to emit 1 tonne of CO2-eq. ERUs are issued for emission reductions or emission removals from joint implementation project activities by converting an equivalent quantity of the party's existing AAUs or removal units (RMUs).

[6]   A Kyoto unit representing an allowance to emit 1 metric tonne of CO2-eq. RMUs are issued for emission removals from LULUCF activities under Article 3, paragraphs 3 and 4.

[7]   The annual average of CO2 emissions in the years 2004, 2005 and 2006 forms the baseline for historical aviation emissions, based on data from the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) and fuel consumption information provided by aircraft operators.

References

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