Total European Union greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.5 % in 2015, according to new European Environment Agency (EEA) data. Transport was a key reason for that increase: better fuel efficiency in that sector was not enough to counter the effects of an increasing demand for transport.
The EEA’s new reports, 'Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory 1990-2015 and inventory report 2017’ and ‘Analysis of key trends and drivers in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU between 1990 and 2015’provide an overview of the EU’s greenhouse gas emission trends.
The EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions increased in 2015 for the first time since 2010. Higher emissions were caused mainly by increasing road transport, both passenger and freight, and slightly colder winter conditions in Europe, compared to 2014, leading to higher demand for heating.
Gains in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles and aircrafts were not enough to offset the additional emissions caused by a higher demand in both passenger and goods transport. Road transport emissions — about 20 % of total EU greenhouse gas emissions — increased for the second year in a row in 2015, by 1.6 %. Emissions from aviation, representing about 4 % of the EU total emissions, increased by 3.3 % in 2015.
In 2015, the EU greenhouse gas emissions increased only slightly, despite the strongest annual economic growth (+ 2.2 %) in the EU since 2007 and following a 4 % decrease in emissions in 2014. From 1990 to 2015, the EU reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22.1 %, already surpassing its 2020 target of reducing emissions by 20%. During the same period, the EU economy grew about 50 %, which shows that long-term economic growth is possible while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The main reasons behind the emission reductions since 1990 include the effects of EU and national policies (leading to the growing use of renewable energy, use of less carbon intensive fuels and improvements in energy efficiency), structural change towards a more service-oriented economy, the effects of economic recession, and milder winters, leading to reduced energy demand for heating.
Other findings for the year 2015
• The reduction in total EU greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 was 23.7 % if emissions from international aviation are excluded.
• Greenhouse gas emissions under the EU emissions trading system (ETS) decreased by 0.7 %, excluding aviation, whereas emissions from the non-trading sectors increased by 1.4 %.
• Spain, Italy and the Netherlands accounted for the largest increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.
• The United Kingdom showed the largest decrease of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.
• Total energy consumption and energy-related emissions increased, due to increased use of natural gas and crude oil.
However, the reduced use of solid fuels, for the third consecutive year, and the sustained increase in renewables – particularly biomass, wind and solar – offset otherwise higher emissions. Electricity production from hydro and nuclear declined.
• In spite of the increase in emissions, the carbon intensity of the EU energy system declined due to higher shares of renewables and gas relative to coal in the overall fuel mix.
• EU greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration and air conditioning decreased, ending an almost exponential increase of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions since 1990.