European Coal Burning, Greenhouse Emissions Higher in 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 23, 2005 (ENS) - A rise in coal use for electricity generation in 2003 pushed up emissions of greenhouse gases across the European Union, according to the latest figures from the European Environment Agency. Coal produces higher emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, than other fossil fuels, and the agency said the biggest emission rises from electricity and heat production were in those countries which increased their coal use.

The latest national estimates collated by the European Environment Agency show that in 2003 compared with 2002 emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases rose by 1.5 percent in the EU-25, the 25 member states included in the bloc since May 1, 2004.

power plant

The Cottam power plant in Nottinghamshire, England operated by EDF Energy burns bituminous coal. (Photo courtesy Christopher Bell)
Emissions went up by 1.3 percent across the EU-15, the 15 member states included in the bloc before May 1. 2004.

Under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the EU-15 have to cut their combined greenhouse gas emissions, averaged over the 2008-2012 period, to eight percent below the 1990 level.

Averaged over the latest five years, EU-15 emissions stood 2.9 percent below their 1990 level, the latest figures show.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, “These figures are disappointing and further reinforce the need for member states to fully implement all the emission reduction actions agreed at EU level as well as their own national measures.”

Friends of the Earth UK said the new figures will increase pressure on British Prime Minister Tony Blair who has pledged to lead international efforts to tackle the problem of global warming.

Next month Blair will chair the G8 Summit in Scotland, where he has placed climate change at the top of the agenda. On July 1, the UK will take over the six month rotating European Union Presidency, and Blair has said he would like the British presidency to make substantial progress towards limiting global warming.

The European Commission’s Climate Change Programme, which brings together key stakeholders, has identified 42 EU-level measures to help the bloc reach its Kyoto targets in cost-effective ways. Most of these measures are now in place, but this was not yet the case in 2003, the year reflected in these latest emissions figures.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme was not yet in place in 2003, Dimas pointed out. The scheme began operating on January 1, 2005. Laws on the taxation of energy products and the promotion of biofuels in transport become effective only this year.

The commissioner says he "remains confident" that the European Union will achieve its Kyoto targets once emissions trading and the other measures are taken into account.

Some proposals, such as controlling emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases used in air conditioning, are still awaiting adoption by European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

The 1.3 percent increase in EU-15 greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 equates to an extra 53 million metric tons of gases, Environment Agency data shows. Almost half of this rise – 24 million tons - was due to a 2.1 percent increase in emissions from energy industries.

This in turn was caused mainly by a growth of five percent in electricity and heat production and in coal consumption by power stations.

Emissions from households and the services sector in the EU-15 rose by 18 million tons, or 2.8 percent, partly due to colder than usual weather in the first quarter of the year in the same countries which increased their heating needs.

Industry saw its emissions rise by 17 million tons, or 2.1 percent, while transport emissions increased by six million tons.

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The Brindisi Sud power plant in southern Italy is fired by coal and oil. (Photo courtesy Enel SpA)
Between 2002 and 2003, Italy, Finland and the United Kingdom saw the largest emission increases in absolute terms - 15 million metric tons, eight million tons and seven million tons respectively.

On the positive side, 2003 saw emission reductions from Portugal of -4.5 million tons or -5.3 percent, due to an increase in hydropower production.

Ireland also reduced its emissions by -2 million tons or -2.6 percent. In Ireland, the decline is the result of a number factors, the Environment Agency said - closure of Ireland's only nitric acid plant and its associated ammonia production facility, CO2 reduction in electricity generation through the greater use of cleaner fuels, and continued decreases in methane and nitrous oxide emissions in agriculture.

A note of good news was sounded by the Commission today with a report that CO2 emissions from new passenger cars sold in the EU-15 decreased by 11.8 percent between 1995 and 2003, a 1.2 percent progress compared to 2002.

The annual report on carbon dioxide emissions from new cars shows that the car industry has made progress in fulfilling its obligations under the voluntary agreements to market cars that emit less CO2. But the report also underlines that major additional efforts will be required in the coming years in order to deliver the target to which the industry has committed itself.

Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Guenter Verheugen said, "I am encouraged by the good results achieved particularly by the European and Japanese Associations since 1995. Industry is pointing out that the targets remain ambitious but the results so far show that they are taking the commitments very seriously."

"On the Korean side, we have received assurances that they will increase their efforts and catch up soon with the other two associations," Verheugen said.

Still, the rising level of emissions is of concern to environmentalists. Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns, said, "These alarming figures show that Europe is failing to take the necessary action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They do not help Tony Blair convince the rest of the world to take tough action on climate change."

"Time is running out," warned Childs. "Unless urgent action is taken on climate change the impacts will ruin countless lives and could wipe out a million species of wildlife."

View the Environment Agency's report at: