EU sees CO2 emissions dropping: Too little and almost too late

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On 4 May 2017, Eurostat released its numbers on the change in CO2 emissions observed in the European Union in 2016 as compared to the year before. The good news is that the CO2 emissions of the EU have decreased. The bad news is that they decreased only by 0.4%. Although this can be regarded as positive news, the CO2 emissions of several member states, including industrial heavy weights such as Germany, have increased.

The document does not provide the reasons behind the slight decrease of the CO2 emissions, but the dysfunctional EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and its failure to provide a strong and coherent carbon price have almost certainly not contributed. The EU ETS fails to provide the necessary economic incentive to decisions makers and industrial actors covered under the scheme to invest in the low carbon technologies needed to take us to a 1.5°C world. Instead, it is more likely that the decrease of industrial productivity, connected to the financial downturn in the past decade, have been the reason for the decrease in emissions.

The overall decrease of the European emissions is not enough for the EU to reach its Paris climate goals. Achieving the emission cuts needed to reach the Paris goals, will necessitate the large scale deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

The Bellona report “Manufacturing our Future” presents pathways by which European industries can deeply decarbonise by capturing its CO2 and transporting it via hubs and clusters. CCS in heavy industry, and in particular in combination with biomass (Bio-CCS), are desperately needed to boost the slow progress that is made in the EU.

Malta best, Finland worst

There are enormous differences between the changes in CO2 emissions of the EU member states. Malta has seen the largest decrease in CO2 emissions by 18.2%. After Malta, Bulgaria managed to decrease its CO2 emissions by 7%.

On the other side of the spectrum were the countries with the biggest increase in CO2 emissions, namely: Finland (+8.5) and Cyprus (+7%). The reasons for these changes were not discussed in the press document released by Eurostat.

While Malta has seen the most significant change, the actual contribution to the CO2 emissions of the entire EU is very limited as Maltese CO2 only account for 0.04% of those of the EU. Germany, on the other hand, saw an increase of only 0.7%, yet the country accounts for over one fifth of the CO2 emissions of the EU. Meeting the EU’s climate obligations will therefore require its heaviest polluters such as Germany to decarbonise immediately.

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Paris goal requires 5%annual cuts

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that, if the 2°C scenario is to become a reality, annual CO2 emissions need to drop by around 5% each year, starting in 2015.

While absolutely crucial, conventional mitigation methods alone, , such as the roll-out of renewable energy and increase in energy efficiency, will not be able to take us to that scenario. CCS can no longer be left out.

Attaining significant reductions in CO2 emissions and the transition to a sustainable low carbon society will to a large extent depend on tackling emissions stemming from energy intensive industries which today account for one fifth of Europe’s total emissions. Because energy-intensive industries including steel, cement and chemicals are reaching theoretical efficiency limits, the application of CCS currently constitutes the only means to substantially reduce their emissions – and attain deep decarbonisation of these important industries.

If the industrial emissions remain at the same level, or if they increase, more CO2 will have to be captured and stored for a longer period in order to prevent the global temperature to rise above 2°C.

Negative CO2 emissions, meaning the subtraction of more CO2 from the atmosphere than is being emitted into it, for instance through the combination of sustainable biofuels with CCS (Bio-CCS), is now also a measure the IPCC says is necessary.

All hands on deck!

The numbers provided by Eurostat indicate that much more action is needed for effective climate action. Positive change is happening much too slowly, and in the wrong places. What we really need is for industrial giants, like Germany, to take real steps to decarbonise fast. This does not mean that economic development needs to slow down. Although we are far behind schedule there is still time to develop an effective CCS infrastructure to reach the Paris goals, but real steps have to be taken now.

Bellona Europa

europe@bellona.org