Climate hope: Carbon emissions begin to fall again

Carbon emissions in the EU are falling for the first time in four years, giving governments and citizens hope in the fight against climate change. Here’s a round up of climate news from Europe this week.

Good news first: EU carbon emissions are decreasing

Carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the EU have decreased by 2.5 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, according to newly released Eurostat data.

It’s the first time in four years that the EU records a reduction, which prompted a positive yet cautious reaction from NGOs. Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said in a statement:

“The EU has finally started to walk the road to the zero-carbon economy. Now we need to start running decisively. To be able to avoid ever wilder extreme weather events, greater drought, food shortages and economic devastation, we need sharp falls in emissions every single year.”

The data shows emissions fell in 20 countries, with the largest decrease being recorded in Portugal (9 percent). Emissions increased in only eight countries: Latvia, Malta, Estonia, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Finland and Lithuania.

Source: Eurostat 2019

“The new European Parliament, the new European Commission and all EU governments need to put forward new policies and actions to strengthen the decreases and support long-term decarbonization,” Trio concluded.

So, can Europe cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050?

Eight EU countries think so and they’ve have urged other governments to make this the EU’s main goal in the coming years, according to a leaked letter obtained by news outlets this week.

The countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Portugal – have signed the non-paper ahead of a summit in Sibiu, Romania, where heads of state and governments are gathering this week to discuss the future of Europe.

“The fight against climate change requires an in-depth transformation of all the sectors of our economy,” the letter reads. “This is both a challenge and a major opportunity to set the EU on a course towards an ambitious, cost-effective and socially fair transition to a climate neutral economy that can bring benefits for economic growth, employment, quality of life, public health, biodiversity, etc.”

The countries suggest that the zero emissions target could be achieved by redirecting at least 25 percent of the EU budget towards projects aimed at decarbonising Europe’s industrial sector and monitoring progress and implementation of green policies.

They also called on the European Investment Bank to make green financing its top priority and promote investment in energy and climate transition.

The problem is…

Not all countries are walking the talk.

Despite encouraging messages from politicians in the wake of recent climate strikes, the absence of big polluters like Germany, Italy and Poland among those who signed the letter didn’t go unnoticed.

Also this week, a new analysis has denounced the “serious lack of commitment” to climate action in Italy, Hungary, Poland and Romania. NGOs said the governments have failed to draft concrete measures to decarbonise transport, agriculture and buildings by 2030, as part of their national climate and energy plans (NCEPs), which all countries must submit to the European Commission.

The general lack of ambition of these plans is unacceptable,” said Agnese Ruggiero, a policy officer at Carbon Market Watch, which led the project.

The European Environmental Bureau’s Roland Joebstl added that “increasing energy efficiency of our homes, schools and workplaces is essential to improve the quality of life of European citizens and transform our society into a net-zero carbon economy“. Joebstl said that national governments should use their climate plans to “allocate money and responsibility to fix our leaky buildings and make sure we get rid of coal, oil and gas“.

Yesterday, 33 organisations wrote to the ‘spitzenkandidaten’ – hopeful candidates for European Commission president – to ask them to champion an EU food policy that would ensure climate emissions from the agriculture sector are slashed.