"Are Europe’s greenhouse gas cuts real?"
On Saturday, I reported that 15 EU countries were on track to meet Kyoto targets, but some readers — including Roger Pielke, Jr. (!) — were skeptical. Now the European Environment Agency (EEA) has released a lot of the underlying data, “Greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe 2008.”
Figure ES-1 (click to enlarge) tells much of the story:
The Kyoto goal for the EU-15 is an 8% cut by 2008-2012 compared to 1990 levels. Four Member States (Germany, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom) expect to achieve their targets “through reductions from existing measures alone.” What will the EU-15 do as a whole?
Data show that the 15 EU Member States sharing a common target under the Kyoto Protocol (EU-15) achieved a reduction of their greenhouse gases by 2.7% between the base year and 2006. The policies and measures in place as of today will not be sufficient for the EU-15 to meet its Kyoto target, as they are expected to push down emissions between 2006 and 2010 to an average level only 3.6% below the base-year emissions. If the additional measures planned by 10 Member States were fully implemented and on time, a further reduction of 3.3% could be obtained. The full effect of the EU Emission Trading Scheme is not reflected in all Member States’ projections.
That means if the additional measures are achieved, the EU-15 would achieve nearly a 7% cut between 1990 and 2010, which is quite close to their target. What are these measures?
The largest further emission reductions projected from such measures correspond to the Directive on the Promotion of Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources, the Directive on the Energy Performance on Buildings, the Cogeneration Directive and the voluntary agreements to reduce per km CO2 emissions from new cars reached with the European, Japanese and Korean automobile industries.
These are all straightforward strategies for reducing GHG emissions, and unlike Dr. Pielke, I see no reason why they should be lumped in with rip-offsets or dismissed as “some accounting tricks and rosy assumptions for the next 18 (!) months.” [Note to Pielke: It is not “the next 18 (!) months. It is the next 48 months, since the EEA report data goes through 2006, and the budget period goes from 2008-2012.] At this point there is no reason to conclude EEA’s analysis is not correct.
Indeed, rather than dismiss these strategies, I confess I spent a few minutes daydreaming of a time when this country might have such directives on core climate solutions, a time when this country might actually have a policy to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and, God forbid, recycled energy. But then I remembered who our president is and snapped out of it.
What will the EU-15 do to fill the (small) gap?
Most EU-15 Member States intend to use carbon sinks — such as planting forests that absorb CO2 — to achieve their Kyoto target. The total amount of carbon dioxide that could be removed annually between 2008 and 2012 is relatively small (1.4% compared to 1990), although it is somewhat higher than the projections made in 2007.
In general I am not thrilled with with trees as offsets, but at this low level, one can hardly get very upset.
The use of Kyoto mechanisms (clean development mechanism and joint implementation), currently planned by ten countries, would help to reduce emissions by a further 3.0%.
About half of these are probably rip-offsets, as a 2008 Stanford analysis concluded (see “What is the difference between carbon offsets and mortgage-backed securites?“). Still, even if only one third of them are real, the EU-15 would hit their 2010 target, even ignoring the carbon sinks.
Bottom Line: Europe made a major commitment under the Kyoto protocol that U.S. conservatives have been telling us for years they would never achieve. Yet it now looks like they will meet their commitment under the terms of the protocol. It looks like they will need some combination of carbon sinks and CDM offsets to get the last 1% of reductions. I won’t be losing any sleep over that and certainly don’t think that any American has any right whatsoever to criticize them. Quite the reverse. European countries have every right to accuse America of continuing to destroy the climate while they alone take a variety of serious actions to reverse their emissions trends.
Yes, it is true that Europe has a very low fertility rate but immigration now keeps their population rising almost as fast as United States. As for how much of Europe’s emissions growth might have been outsourced, I haven’t seen analysis on that subject, but the EU-15’s trade deficit with China appears to be about half of ours, so we have probably been doing a lot more emissions outsourcing.
Yes, the first phase of emissions reduction was always going to be the easiest. But that goes double for this country, given that we are far more efficient than Europe. The time to act was
yesterday ten years ago.
UPDATE: In another comment to my earlier post, Pielke points out the 3% CDM offsets and the 1.4% in carbon sinks and claims “the EEA report mentioned in the AP study identifies such offsets as central to the ability of the EU-15 to meet its goals.” Central? How does getting the last 1% of emissions reductions with offsets make them central? Remember, absent Kyoto, the EU-15’s emissions would have grown considerably from 1990 levels.
I understand why some people in this country seem to glory in any problems Europe has in meeting its target: It somehow implies we should be let off the hook for not ratifying Kyoto and for not embracing any serious domestic action. But I actually consider it rather amazing that the EU has accomplished so much given the sorry state of international climate politics.
After all, inaction by China alone is used by conservatives and businesses in this country as a major justification for opposing all domestic action. Imagine how tough it must be for European leaders when they have to keep pushing climate action in the face of inaction by China and the United States — their two major economic competitors.
We won’t know for about 3 or 4 years how close the EU-15 will come to meeting its Kyoto target without offsets. But it seems clear enough today that what they have done is a very impressive achievement that should serve as an inspiration to the world.
Kudos to Europe. Jeers to those who are still trying to diminish what they’ve accomplished.