UK and EU reduce greenhouse-gas emissions

4th June 2014

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  • Renewable ,
  • Generation ,
  • Mitigation


David Orr

The UK government cancels pollution rights after meeting its first carbon budget, while the EU has cut GHG emissions by more than 19% against 1990 levels.

The UK has surpassed its first five-year carbon reduction targets, allowing the government to cancel 36 million tonnes of carbon pollution rights. According to climate campaign group, Sandbag, this eliminates more greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions than the combined annual emissions of the country’s two largest coal-fired power stations.

The UK is committed to achieving an 80% reduction in GHGs by 2050, relative to 1990 levels, through a series of five-year carbon budgets. The first budget targets have been met through a combination of increased renewables capacity and improvements in energy efficiency, but mainly due to the economic downturn. “The first carbon budget proved easier to meet than expected, owing largely to emissions reductions caused by the recession, leaving 36 millions of emission rights to spare at the end of the period,” Sandbag said on its website. The government had until the end of May to decide whether to bank forward these spare emissions rights for future use or allow them to expire, and has chosen the latter option.

Figures from the European Environment Agency reveal that GHG emissions in the EU are continuing to fall. The EU’s GHG emissions have fallen consistently since 2004 and the latest data from the agency shows a further 1.3% decrease in 2012, bringing the total cut in emissions to 19.2% below 1990 levels. The agency says that changes in GDP over the recession period account for less than 50% of observed emissions reduction, with the bulk of the savings coming from sustained growth in renewables and improvements in energy efficiency.

According to the agency, the better-than-expected results are the strongest indication yet that economic growth has decoupled from GHG emissions compared to the 1990 baseline. "The EU has demonstrated that there is no conflict between a growing economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Hans Bruyninckx, executive director at the agency.

The EU is now within reach of its target to reduce GHG emissions by 20% by 2020 eight years ahead the deadline, but has yet to announce whether it intends to cancel spare carbon allowances, as the UK has done, or bank them, which would allow for a rise in future GHG emissions, while still meeting future targets. The European commission is currently proposing a binding EU-wide GHG emissions reduction target of 40% against 1990 levels by 2030.

China, meanwhile, has announced that it will limit total CO2 emissions for the first time, starting in 2016. It follows the recent US plan to cut carbon emissions by 30% from existing fossil-fuelled power plants by 2030.


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