UK outstrips European partners in race to meet Kyoto targets

Of five European Union countries reviewed in a newly-released report, only the UK is currently on track to achieve its Kyoto Protocol emissions reduction target. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Spain are all likely to fail to meet their targets based on current measures.

Of the four also-rans, the report says strong political commitment allied to recent proposals by the German Government, mean that country is the next most likely to reach its targets (see related story).

The report, which was commissioned by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, presents the national emissions reduction targets to which the UK (see related story), Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Spain committed under the Kyoto Protocol. It draws conclusions on the likelihood of success taking into consideration the political will and obstacles in each country.

“As we approach the third anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol and continue working to address the questions raised but not answered in the agreement, it is worth examining whether these countries are on track to deliver their promised reductions,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center. “This is especially true given the current discussions advocating ratification by 2002.”

b>UK The UK has committed to reducing its emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels. Emissions are currently down 14.6%, due primarily to fuel switching from coal to natural gas (see related story), but further switching will have diminishing returns. To stay on track, the UK programme encourages renewable energy (see related story), co-generation and district heating; employs eco-taxes to support fuel-efficient vehicles and to reduce domestic fuel use and energy use by businesses (through the climate change levy – see related story); and is working with industry to find ways to introduce an emissions trading system. The report says John Prescott’s “strong personal commitment” will help the UK maintain political support for climate change action.

GermanyThe largest greenhouse gas (ghg) emitter in the EU, Germany is aiming to cut emissions to 21% below its 1990 levels. Emissions are currently 17% below, largely due to dramatic reductions in the former East Germany. The main elements of the current programme include eco-taxes, voluntary agreements with industry, policies to reduce coal production and use, and to promote co-generation energy (see related story), district heating, natural gas, and renewable energy (see related story). Despite additional programmes and strong political commitment, reductions are unlikely to continue at the same pace, and it will be difficult for Germany to reach its Kyoto target, the report claims.

The NetherlandsThe Netherlands’ Kyoto target is to reduce overall emissions six percent below 1990 levels. Current CO2 emissions have increased by 17%, calling into question the country’s ability to meet its target despite its strong political commitment (see related story) and intention to purchase half its reductions through emissions trading. The Government has introduced a wide range of measures but they have not reversed the trend of growing emissions, a result of the high-energy use of its economic base and the country’s strong economy.

Austria Austria’s Kyoto Protocol commitment is to reduce ghg emissions by 13% from 1990 levels. Per capita emissions are already low, due to heavy use of hydropower and biomass energy and strong support for public transportation. CO2 emissions have increased by around eight percent and the government has devised a policy package to reverse this increase. The difficulty lies in the potential for diminishing returns from furthering its renewables, energy savings and transportation policies; also, public opinion is that Austria has no great problem from most emission sources and consequently could react against tougher measures.

Spain Because of its need for economic growth and its relatively low level of per capita emissions, Spain’s target is to limit its emissions increase to 15% above 1990 levels. With current emissions already 11-13% over, the country is unlikely to meet its target without additional action, the report says. Environmental concern in Spain is generally lower than elsewhere in the EU. As the largest net recipient from the EU budget, pressure from net contributor states (particularly Germany, The Netherlands, and the UK) is a lever that may help ensure further action on climate change by the Spanish Government.

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