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Energy, Environment & Sustainable Development

August 2003

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Greenhouse gas: a report card

The European Environmental Agency gives a progress report on the success of EU member states and candidates countries in meeting their targets under the Kyoto Protocol to cut the harmful gases blamed for global warming. R emember the Kyoto protocol? The refusal of the United States, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, to sign up to the accord was thought to have dealt a death blow to the United Nations' efforts to persuade developed countries to slash pollution by the end of the decade.

However, the European Union is proceeding as if the protocol will come into legal force, which is expected to occur after Russia finally ratifies the accord as promised this year. Russia's signature will mean that countries creating more than 55% of the world's greenhouse gases will have ratified the treaty, the threshold laid down by the UN for the pact to come into force.

But the EU, an early supporter of Kyoto, is not waiting for the Russians to climb on board. It has already agreed to reduce its emissions by 8% from 1990 levels by 2008-2012 and has implemented measures to achieve that target. But, with just five years to go before the first deadline, is the EU making significant progress?

Room for improvement

The European Environment Agency, which monitors the EU's progress in meeting its international environmental commitments, has just released its latest report card for the period 1999-2000. In a nutshell, the message behind the plethora of tables and graphs is that, while progress has been good, some countries could try harder.

The agency reports that total EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2000 were 0.3% above those in 1999, although they were still 3.5% below 1990 levels. It blames the jump on more coal being used for electricity generation, fuelled by faster economic growth. This rise was lessened by a relatively mild winter in Europe.

Performance across the EU, however, was not uniform. In 2000, six member states - Luxembourg, Germany, the United Kingdom, Finland, Sweden and France - were on track to fulfil their Kyoto targets, with Luxembourg registering a massive 45.1% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions in 2000 compared to 1999.

Nine countries had slipped behind, with Spain, Ireland and Portugal the worst offenders. Spain, for example, had increased its greenhouse gas emissions in the 12 months to 2000 by 4.1%, earning a scowling emoticon from the EEA.

Transport emissions stabilise

Yet Spain's emissions look environmentally friendly when compared to those of Germany and the United Kingdom. Despite reducing emissions by 19% and 12.9% respectively in 2000, Germany and the UK are still the EU's biggest polluters, accounting for about 40% of all EC greenhouse gas emissions.

The EEA's report is full of such interesting facts. It not only analyses the performance of each EU member state, but of the 10 candidate countries. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia reduced their greenhouse gas emissions substantially in 1999 compared to 1998.

It also reports on the most significant sources of greenhouse gas. Not surprisingly, the energy industries account for some 27% of all emissions, while cars and lorries produce a further 20%. On the transport front, environmentalists can at least take some solace from the fact that 2000 was the first year in the past decade in which traffic emissions did not increase. Not a bad achievement considering that passenger car traffic rose by 17% and (and freight transport 42%) between 1990 and 1999.

Greenhouse gas emission trends in Europe, 1990-200

Greenhouse gas emission trends in Europe, 1990-2000
Topic report 7/2002
ISBN 92 9167 516 4
European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 2002
English, 68 pp, free of charge
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Climate change - a European perspective

Home to just 5% of the world's population, the EU produces 15% of the world's greenhouse gases. Most of the world's experts agree that, left unchecked, average surface temperatures on earth will rise by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees by the end of the century. The European Commission firmly believes that this is not acceptable and is, therefore, an international leader in tackling climate change. This document contains key information on climate change, the EU response, and action being taken to combat the phenomenon.

EU focus on climate change
ISBN 92 894 3131 8
European Commission, Environment DG, Brussels, 2003
English, 28 pp, free of charge
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Cleaner furnaces

A recent project has worked on avoiding emissions in certain stages of the steel manufacturing process. The aim was to remove emissions from continuous casting fluxes containing volatile fluoride and alkali compounds. Experiments were conducted using powdered lithium oxide, which is chemically more stable, to replace calcium fluoride and sodium oxide, which are unhealthy and corrosive. The results are encouraging, but testing is still required on a larger number of steel heats to ensure long-term reliability.

Improvement of casting fluxes and slags by minimisation of environment-polluting and corrosive constituents (fluorine, alkali components)
EUR 20645
European Commission, Research DG, Brussels, 2003
English, 137 pp, EUR 25
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