Recession Lowers Europe's CO2 Emissions

Greenhouse gases in the European Union have fallen again for the fourth year in a row.

According to figures released on Monday by the European Environment Agency, the EU's own ecological bureau, emissions from the 15 EU member states that signed up to the Kyoto Protocol fell by 1.3 percent in 2008, compared with 2007.

The drop takes emissions down 6.2 percent below 1990 levels—the baseline year. As parties to the protocol, the EU-15 are committed to reducing emissions by eight percent on the baseline level by 2012.

For the whole of the EU, emissions dropped 1.5 percent in 2008, bringing the level to 13.6 percent lower than in 1990.

"These provisional figures are a further confirmation that the EU is well on track to reach its Kyoto target, even if one should recognise that part of the reduction in emissions is due to the economic slowdown," said EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas upon the release of the data. "This trend needs to be further consolidated in the coming years."

The commissioner used the occasion to encourage EU member states to rapidly implement the bloc's climate and energy package, passed last year.

Green campaigners welcomed the reduction, but warned that this has been largely a result of external factors, rather than a product of efforts on the part of EU actors.

"There has been a clear trend of decreasing emissions, but we've seen increasing temperatures year after year, which means that households are heating their homes less," Greenpeace Europe's Joris den Blanken told EUobserver. "Then of course there is the economic downturn, so this is to be expected."

"There have been energy efficiency gains, but these have largely been achieved, again, by households, with industry and transport doing very little," he added.

"So the result is actually that the EU is more or less on target, linearly, to achieving its reduction targets, but from sitting back and doing not very much at all. Only by kicking up its ambitions to at least 30 percent reductions on 1990 levels by 2020 would they begin to be doing more than business as usual."

The organisation also pointed out that while emissions overall are indeed decreasing, for the transport sector in Europe, emissions are still rapidly increasing.