The European Union’s (EU) total greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 were 18.4% below 1990 levels, according to the EU greenhouse gas inventory.

When international aviation is included, in line with the climate and energy package, greenhouse gas emissions fell 17% in the EU since 1990.

The 2011 emissions decrease was largely due to a milder winter in 2011 compared to 2010, which led to a lower demand for heating. The officially reported 2011 emissions were 3.3% lower than the previous year, while the EU experienced a 1.6% growth in GDP.

European Environment Agency (EEA) executive director, Jacqueline McGlade, said: “The greenhouse gas emissions cut in 2011 is good news, however, it was largely due to a warmer winter. Nonetheless, the EU is making clear progress towards its emission targets.”

She added: “There was an increase in consumption of more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal, while hydroelectricity production and gas consumption decreased. If Europe is to achieve the transition towards a low-carbon society, it will need sustained investment in technology and innovation.”

The decrease in 2011 was also the third largest over this period, according to official data compiled by the EEA and reported by the EU to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The reduction in emissions is larger than EEA’s estimates published last year, because the extent of the reduced heating demand only became apparent when complete and final energy data became available. The highest emissions reductions were from homes and commerce.

The findings also showed that almost two thirds of the emissions reduction in 2011 came from the UK, France and Germany. The largest increases in the absolute volume of emissions were in Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.

In addition, fossil fuel consumption decreased by 5% in the EU in 2011 and consumption of energy from renewable sources had the second largest decline of the last 21 years in percentage terms, mainly due to significantly lower hydroelectricity production. Wind and solar, however, continued increasing strongly in 2011.

The EEA said that other EU emission data sets are now able to provide an increasingly complete picture of emission changes in 2012.

Verified greenhouse gas emissions in sectors covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), covering approximately 40% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, fell by 2% between 2011 and 2012.

Meanwhile, early estimates published today by Eurostat and based on monthly energy statistics of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, covering approximately 80% of EU total greenhouse gas emissions) also point to a 2.1% decrease between 2011 and 2012.

Leigh Stringer

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie