EU Science Hub

Latest EU greenhouse gas emissions data (2011): lowest levels since 1990

Jun 04 2013

The JRC has contributed to the recently published ‘Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory 1990–2011 and inventory report 2013’, prepared by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Climate Action, the European Environment Agency‘s (EEA), the European Topic Centre for Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM) and Eurostat, the EU's statistical office. JRC scientists took care of the inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture and from land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).

The report shows that the level of greenhouse gases fell by 3.3% in the EU in 2011, leading to the lowest level of emissions since 1990 (18.4% below 1990 levels). This decrease was largely due to a milder winter in 2011 compared to 2010, which led to a lower demand for heating. Fossil fuel consumption decreased by 5% in the EU. Liquid fuel consumption decreased by 4% and natural gas consumption fell by almost 11%. Biomass combustion increased by less than 1% in EU-27 in 2011. Nuclear power’s contribution to electricity also declined in the EU in 2011 compared to 2010, mainly due to closure of power plants in Germany, according to Eurostat energy data. Road transport emissions continued to decline in 2011 for the fourth consecutive year. In contrast, emissions from international aviation and shipping increased in 2011.

GHG emissions by the agricultural sector in the EU-15

The GHG emissions emitted by the agriculture sector in the EU-15 decreased by 14.7% between 1990 and 2011 to reach 370 Tg CO2 equivalents in 2011. These reductions occurred in the largest key sources of emissions due to the decreasing use of fertiliser and manure and declining cattle numbers, which were respectively 24% and 11% below 1990 levels in 2011 in most Member States. The Nitrates Directive, which aims to reduce and prevent water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources, has had the largest impact on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

GHG from LULUCF in the EU-15

The land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector in the EU-15 represents a net carbon sink, resulting from higher removals by sinks than emissions from sources. Between 1990 and 2011, the net CO2 in LULUCF sink in the EU-15 increased by about 22% to reach -196 055 Gg CO2 eq (gigagrams of CO2 equivalents) in 2011.

Forests are a significant net carbon sink and represent 37% of EU-15 total land area. Total forest area in the EU-15 increased by 4% between 1990 and 2011, from 119 757 kha in 1990 to 123 896 kha in 2011. This trend is due to the reduced levels of grazing pressure and agricultural activities on marginal lands, which promoted natural forest expansion, and also due to the promotion of national afforestation programmes (including grant aid).

Background information

The European Union, as a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), reports annually on greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories for the year t–2 for the area covered by its Member States. The current inventory report provides information on domestic emissions taking place within the EU territory (EU-27, EU-15, individual Member States) and by economic sector.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU-15 committed to reduce GHG emissions by 8% between 2008 and 2012 compared to emissions in the ‘base year’ (4 265.5 Mt CO2 eq). The EU-27 does not have a common target under the Kyoto Protocol in the same way as the EU-15.

In addition to the Kyoto Protocol’s commitments, the EU adopted the Climate and Energy Package in April 2009. The Package sets out the objective of limiting the rise in global average temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, the EU committed to a unilateral GHG emission reduction target of 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and agreed to a reduction of 30%, provided that other major emitters agree to take on their fair share of a global reduction effort.

The EU inventory helps to monitor anthropogenic GHG emissions in the Member States, implement UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol obligations and evaluate progress towards meeting these commitments.