Transportation drives uptick in emissions in Europe
A green wave may have swept Europe last weekend, but emissions in the trading bloc are still rising EU greenhouse gas emissions rose 0.7 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year, driven largely by increasing emissions from industry, road transport and aviation, official data shows.
The latest data from the European Environment Agency (EEA), confirms preliminary estimates last autumn. It shows emissions actually fell across most sectors of the EU's economy in 2017, but that increases from transport, air conditioning and refrigeration in particular helped push overall greenhouse gas levels upwards.
Nevertheless, the EU remains on course to exceed its target to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020, with the data showing a total net drop of 21.7 percent since 1990, all of which has come as Europe's GDP has grown by 58 percent over the same period.
The overall reduction over the past three decades has been driven largely by decarbonization of the energy sector, the EEA explained. As renewable energy sources have become cheaper and more abundant, the EU has also shifted towards less carbon-intensive gas power instead of coal and oil, while greater energy efficiency and, on average, milder winters requiring less energy for heating also have played their part.
At an aggregate level, emission reductions were largest in 2017 for manufacturing industries and construction, electricity and heat production, iron and steel production and residential combustion, according to the EEA.
But emissions from transport continue to grow, with carbon dioxide from road transport increasing for the fourth consecutive year in 2017 across both freight and passenger vehicles. The lion's share of the rise from road transport was driven by higher diesel consumption by trucks and vans, although consumption emissions also rose for passenger cars, EEA said.
Analysis released from campaign group Transport & Environment revealed that three years on from the "dieselgate" scandal, 33 million cars on EU roads still emit more pollutants than advertised. It's an indication of how sluggish the car industry can be to respond to environmental challenges.
Moreover, emissions from international aviation — which unlike the United Kingdom's domestic emissions statistics are also included in the EEA's assessment — increased "substantially" due to higher demand for flight and therefore greater consumption of jet kerosene fuel.
Last month RyanAir became the first airline — and the first non-coal plant — to rank as a top greenhouse gas emitter under the EU's Emissions Trading System, in a signal that aviation is replacing coal as a major source of greenhouse gases in the bloc.
Almost all EU Member States have reduced emissions compared to 1990, with the United Kingdom and Germany together accounting for around half of the total net reduction in greenhouse gases from the EU over the past 27 years.
However, Poland and Spain accounted for the largest increases in emissions in 2017. In Poland this was mainly due to higher emissions from road transportation, while Spain saw its emissions grow largely due to higher use of coal power for electricity generation, the EEA explained.
News that emissions have risen will raise significant concerns about the EU's ability to get a handle on its climate impact, and increase pressure on Brussels to put rapid decarbonization front and center of its policy program for the next five years.
It follows election results last week which have seen a marked uptick in the number of green MEPs elected to the EU Parliament, and could increase pressure on EU leaders as they decide on who to appoint as Jean Claude Junker's successor as president of the commission next month.
EU lawmakers also will need to decide next month on Europe's long-term climate ambitions. The EU has a target to reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2030, but there is strong support for proposals that would increase this to 55 percent, and also set a net zero emissions goal for 2050.
The trading bloc is facing fierce international pressure to adopt a more ambitious emissions reduction target, as nations prepare to gather in New York in September for a United Nations summit on the climate crisis. Around 80 countries could ramp up their climate pledges at the event, The New York Times reported this week.
Voters across Europe last week demanded climate change be treated as a top priority for the European Union. The latest emissions data serves to underscore the urgency of that demand, and the challenges diplomats will face in driving action across the bloc.