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Western Europe cuts greenhouse gasses

July 16, 2004 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Drop in emissions signals progress on Kyoto Protocol.

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Emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen in Europe's most industrialized countries, according to new figures. A report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that production of six key climate-warming gases dipped in 2002 after two dispiriting years of increase.

The release of the gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen dioxide, fell by 0.5% in the European Union (EU) from 2001 to 2002, the report says1. Under the terms of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, European countries have pledged to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by 8% by 2012, relative to 1990 levels.

That had seemed a distant target before the latest figures were released. After initial good progress in the wake of the agreement, emissions had risen steadily since 2000.

The latest figures are encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether Europe has truly turned the corner, says Andreas Barkman, one of the EEA scientists who produced the report. "It is a change in the trend, but to see a clear decline will require more steps," he told news@nature.com.

The report also shows that Europe is still not quite on track to meet its Kyoto target. Greenhouse emissions for 2002 are just 2.9% below 1990 figures. And carbon dioxide releases, which account for more than 80% of total emissions, are actually higher.

Cooking on gas

The latest reduction in overall greenhouse-gas releases are mainly due to cuts in methane and nitrogen dioxide through better waste management and a shift from coal- to gas-fired power stations, explains Barkman. The trend has been spearheaded by Britain and Germany, which together are responsible for about 40% of Western Europe's emissions.

It is a change in the trend, but to see a clear decline will require more steps
Andreas Barkman
European Environment Agency
The report, which includes only the 15 countries that held EU membership before the union's expansion in May this year, may inspire other countries striving to meet their own Kyoto targets. Most of the ten new member states are "very much on track", says Barkman.

Europe's modest progress should also set an example to the United States and Russia, neither of which has yet signed the Kyoto pledge, he says. "It sends a message that it's tough but doable."

Barkman hopes that the launch next year of a scheme to allow participating countries to trade 'emissions credits' will impress those countries still on the outside. The plan will rely on some countries to make more than their fair share of cuts, in return for cash from countries with high emissions and big wallets. "If it works it will raise a lot of interest - it's important for the EU to show leadership," he says.

References

  1. European Environment Agency,Annual European Community greenhouse gas inventory 1990-2002 and inventory report 2004 Technical report No 2/2004.

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