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Europe poised to meet Kyoto target: Does this mean the much-maligned European Trading System is a success?

By Joe Romm  

"Europe poised to meet Kyoto target: Does this mean the much-maligned European Trading System is a success?"

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Europe made a major commitment under the Kyoto protocol that U.S. conservatives have been telling us for years they would never achieve. It now seems clear Europeans will meet their commitment under the terms of the protocol. It will become increasingly difficult for those who don’t want a U.S. cap-and-trade system to point to the European Trading System (ETS) as an obvious failure.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) reported Friday:

EU greenhouse gas emissions fall for third consecutive year

European Union emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHG) declined for the third consecutive year in 2007, according to the EU’s GHG inventory report compiled by the European Environment Agency. The EU-27′s overall domestic emissions were 9.3 % below 1990 levels, which equalled a drop of 1.2 % or 59 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent compared to 2006. The EU-15 now stands 5 % below its Kyoto Protocol base year levels.

European Union-15-greenhouse gas-emissions

You can see how each individual country is doing here (full report here).

And just two weeks ago, the European Commission reported that a subset of total EU GHG emissions, the carbon dioxide emissions traded in the European Trading System (ETS), dropped sharply in 2008:

Emissions of greenhouse gases from EU businesses participating in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) fell 3.06 % in 2008 compared with a year earlier, according to the information provided by Member State registries. With the 6.5% reduction in emission allowances that the Commission has secured for the second trading period, the EU ETS really started to make a difference to emissions in 2008. Last year marked the beginning of the second trading period of the EU ETS, which runs from 2008 to 2012.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The 3 per cent reduction was partly due to businesses taking measures to cut their emissions in response to the strong carbon price that prevailed until the economic downturn started. It confirms that the EU has a well functioning trading system, with a robust cap, a clear price signal and a liquid market, which is helping us to cut emissions cost-effectively. This should encourage other countries in their efforts to set up comparable domestic cap-and-trade systems, which we would like to see linked up with the EU ETS to create a stronger international carbon market.”

… Emissions were reduced despite GDP growth in the EU-27 of 0.8% last year.  While the economic slowdown was felt strongly in the sectors covered by the EU ETS, the drop in emissions was also due to emission reduction measures undertaken by installations in reaction to the robust carbon price which prevailed for most of 2008 before the onset of the recession.

Yes, because of the global economic collapse, it is difficult to say categorically how much credit the much-maligned ETS deserves.  Still, the point of this system is to meet the Kyoto target, and it now seems clear that the EU-15 will meet the target.

And the EU-15 will apparently do so with minimal use of the even more maligned (including by me) international offsets — Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) of Clean Development Mechanism projects (for longer discussion of CERs/CDM, see “Do the 2 billion offsets allowed in Waxman-Markey gut the emissions targets?“).  The European Commission noted that

Last year it was possible for the first time for installations to surrender emission credits generated through the Kyoto Protocol’s flexible mechanisms in order to offset part of their emissions. CERs accounted for 3.9% of all surrenders. 41% of these originated in China, 31% in India, 15% in South Korea and 7% in Brazil, with a further 14 countries of origin accounting for the remaining 5%….

92% of the surrenders were allowances which had been given to installations for free [!] while the remaining 4.1% of surrenders were of allowances either purchased in auctions or free allowances allocated for 2009.

To repeat the 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. It now seems clear they will meet their commitment under the terms of the protocol. It will become increasingly difficult for those who don’t want a U.S. cap-and-trade system to point to the European Trading System ETS) as an obvious failure.

Now it is certainly true that the EU target was not incredibly strong, especially given their relatively lower population growth compared to the United States.  I fully expect our old friend Roger Pielke, Jr. to weigh in on this point, as he did last year (see “Are Europe’s greenhouse gas cuts real?” and “Population growth and climate: The EU-15 vs. the U.S.“).  Of course, we don’t take him too seriously since “Finally, Roger Pielke admits he supports policies that will take us to 5-7°C warming or more” and since he is a fellow at that bastion of bad analysis, TBI (see “Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from The Breakthrough Institute“).

Indeed, the EU-15 started with higher energy taxes, more efficient vehicles, higher electricity prices, and a number of stronger energy efficiency regulations than this country.  So they don’t have as much energy and carbon “fat” to shed as we do (see “The United States of Waste“)  In any case, it is rather cheeky for any American to criticize Europe on the grounds of not cutting their greenhouse gas emissions enough.

As I’ve said before, 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.

It now seems clear the EU-15 will meet its Kyoto target without using a lot of offsets.  What they have done and are doing is an impressive achievement that should serve as an inspiration to the world.  I will blog shortly on Germany’s remarkable set of actions and future commitments.

Kudos to Europe. Jeers to those who are still trying to diminish what they’ve accomplished.

[Memo to European Environment Agency:  If you want anybody to pay attention to what you folks are accomplishing, stop with the Friday press releases.]

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Energy and Global Warming News for June 1st: Next Steps for Waxman-Markey, climate change turning seas acid ›

6 Responses to Europe poised to meet Kyoto target: Does this mean the much-maligned European Trading System is a success?

  1. MarkB says:

    “Yes, because of the global economic collapse, it is difficult to say categorically how much credit the much-maligned ETS deserves.”

    When the European economies were booming, no one bothered to take this into account when emissions didn’t keep quite keep pace with targets. Now that we have a global downturn, expect Kyoto-bashers to attribute this.

    Any way you look at it, Kyoto has been at least a partial success for Europe as a whole, but I tend to agree that their targets haven’t been all that strong.

  2. Modesty says:

    Debunking misleading or indiscriminate EU ETS bashing is important, so thanks.

    In putting together your post on Germany, please consider the new coal-fired power plants the Germans are building and the German Environmental Minister’s claims:

    Claim 1: Building new coal power plants does not mean additional emissions.

    Claim 2: Replacing old plants with new more efficient plants cuts emissions.

    Claim 3: The cap puts an upper limit on emissions no matter how many plants you build.

    Claim 4: You could build 100 new plants and not increase CO2 emissions.

    Claim 5: Germany cannot say no to both coal and nuclear.

    http://www.news-adhoc.com/gabriel-betont-notwendigkeit-neuer-kohlekraftwerke-idna2009031322122/

    Re claim 1: Relative to what?

    Re claim 2: Relative to those old plants, yes, but how does building new coal plants affect emissions for the next 40 (80?) years relative to other replacement options?

    To quote Joe:

    “I don’t want some utility building a brand-new (traditional) coal plant that could last for 50 to 80 years and “offsetting” that by shutting down some decades old coal plant that wasn’t going to last many more decades anyway.”

    “The bottom line is that we need an immediate moratorium on the construction of new traditional coal plants. That is a higher priority than a cap & trade bill, although such a bill is also a high priority. If the West cannot stop building such coal plants and quickly show the world that multiple alternatives — particularly efficiency and renewables — are practical and affordable, then how will we be able to convince the developing world, especially China and India, to stop building such coal plants within the decade?”

    Or:

    “You can’t go green by burning coal and buying offsets.”

    Re claim 3: How does building new coal plants affect political climate for future cap tightening schedule?

    Re claim 4: Relative to what? The focus obviously needs to be on actually cutting emissions, by a lot (not simply on not increasing them)–not just talking about ambitious targets for 2020 and then building coal plants. The question everyone wants Gabriel and Merkel to answer is: how would Germany cut 40% of its emissions while investing in more coal?

    Re claim 5: Well, you get the idea.

    Thanks.

  3. And note that the first report says EU emissions in 2007 were 9.3 % below 1990 levels – and that is before the global economic collapse.

  4. paulm says:

    Modesty, Ok are you saying that the Germans (or anyone else for that matter) are to accept a fall in their standard of living voluntarily?

    The true outcome of effectively addressing CO2 emission means hardship. There is no way around this.

  5. Modesty says:

    paulm:

    Thanks for reading my comment (I think). But I’m not following how your question relates to my comment. It seems kind of orthogonal to my comments/questions to Joe.

    Further, I’m sure I’m misunderstanding you, but are you saying that Germans (or anyone else for that matter), who have the choice, should choose to accept the hardship of NOT addressing CO2 emissions?

  6. jorleh says:

    EU-15 down 8 % looks rather fine, but you must read it right.

    The real change is +8% ( emissions for the manufacture of our production in China and other BRIC and new EU countries).

    Kyoto has been a catastrophe for AGW. Only pure greenwash.