Overall, the 15 European Union nations recorded a 4% reduction between 1990 and 1999 in their combined emissions of the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol, according to a new emissions inventory produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA), an EU body supporting sustainable development.

The inventory reveals that the 4% cut takes the EU half way towards achieving the Kyoto target of reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases to 8% below their 1990 level by the years 2008-2012, although only three countries – the UK, Germany and Luxembourg have made the necessary reductions. Without the contribution of Germany and Britain, which are the two greatest emitters of GHGs in the EU contributing around 40% of total EU emissions, the ability of meeting Kyoto commitments would be in doubt, the EEA says.

Between 1990 and 1999, Britain reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14.5%, mainly as a result of lower coal consumption and a shift towards increased use of gas, and Germany achieved reductions of 18.7%, through the same means and by closing of industrial plant in eastern Germany and improvements in energy efficiency.

However, the agency warns against complacency even by these two nations as initial preliminary estimates indicate that in 2000 the UK’s CO2 emissions increased by 2% and Germany’s by 0.2% from their respective 1999 levels, with increased use of coal identified as the main cause.

The EU’s progress was helped by a 2.0% fall in greenhouse gas emissions in 1999, which came despite economic growth of 2.5%, the EEA says, which was “due to a combination of favourable factors, some of which will not be repeated”. The main reasons cited were: the one-off introduction of technical measures to reduce nitrous oxide emissions at adipic and nitric acid production plants in France and the UK and hydrofluorocarbon emissions from the UK HFC industry; a continuation of the shift from coal to gas seen during the 1990s, particularly in Germany and the UK; and relatively mild winters in Germany, UK, France and the Netherlands which reduced energy use for indoor heating.

The inventory also says that, on present trends, more than half of the other Member States are headed towards substantially exceeding their agreed share of the EU’s total allowed emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. This is the case for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Denmark is the nation furthest off target, with a 4% increase in GHG emissions from 1990-9, compared to target reduction of 21% on 1990’s levels. However, Spain, Portugal and Ireland showed the greatest growth in GHG emissions with emissions increases of 23.2%, 22.4% and 22.1% respectively. The best performance by far has been tiny Luxembourg where emissions have been cut by 43.3% , more than 15% above the target set for 2008-12.

The EEA also stressed that, whilst the EU still has considerable further progress to make, it far outstrips US performance, where GHG emissions increased by 11% over the same period.

The inventory includes emissions of the six gases from all sources, with the exception of emissions from international aviation and marine transport and emissions from, and removals by, land use change and forestry, for which no internationally accepted methodologies exist yet for monitoring these sources and sinks.

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