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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

29.05.2013 | 3:00pm
ScienceEnergyUK emissions rise while most of Europe’s fall
SCIENCE | ENERGY | May 29. 2013. 15:00
UK emissions rise while most of Europe’s fall

UK energy sector emissions rose in 2012 in contrast with the majority of other EU countries, new data shows. The news comes as MPs in the UK get ready for the latest round of debates over the forthcoming energy bill, with key questions still looming over how the government will secure a low carbon future.

Bucking the trend

New European Commission data shows emissions fell by two per cent across the EU, with 23 countries reducing their emissions. But of the five largest economies, two – Germany and the UK – saw emissions increase.

EU ems1

Source: Eurostat, graph by Carbon Brief

Italy, France and Spain all saw emissions drop. Finland and Belgium made the largest cuts, reducing emissions by almost 12 per cent on a year before.

In contrast, Germany’s emissions rose by nearly one per cent, and the UK saw an almost four per cent increase. Malta had the largest rise, increasing emissions by over 6 per cent.

EU ems 2

Source: Eurostat, graph by Carbon Brief

The news may provide further ammunition for those MPs wanting the government to include a decarbonisation target in the energy bill in the UK. An amendment to the bill proposes a target to cut power sector emissions to 50g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour by 2030 in line with advice from the government’s climate change advisors, the Committee on Climate Change. The government are against the change but promise to review the decision in 2014.

The figures could also be presented as a problem for the German government which continues to pursue an ambitious programme to ramp up renewable electricity generation. In 2010, Germany committed itself to an 80 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2050 while phasing out all nuclear generation by 2022. The latest figures suggest the decision to phase out nuclear has led to increased use of more carbon intensive energy sources.

Increased coal

But the main reason for the UK and Germany’s emissions increases is more mundane –  the current cheapness of coal. 

Analyst Michael Goll of Eurostat, the agency charged with compiling the statistics, tells us: 

“The general picture is that many Member States shift towards coal, which is used in many of them for electricity generation. At the same time the use of oil and gas is reduced.” 

The US shale gas boom led European market prices to plummet as unwanted coal resources were exported. A low EU carbon price also reduces the incentive to use lower emitting power sources, such as gas. 

The result is that coal generation rose while gas generation fell by over 5 per cent in Germany. In the UK, coal generation is at its highest point since 2006 according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, rising by over 25 per cent on 2011 according to Eurostat’s figures. 

Coal generation also increased in France, Spain and Italy, but coal accounts for a smaller proportion of those countries’ electricity generation than Germany of the UK – meaning it had less of an effect on their overall power sector emissions.

The statistics suggest the EU needs to work out a way to make less emitting energy sources competitive with cheap US coal if it wants to keep emissions falling, particularly in those countries which continue to rely on coal for large portions of their electricity generation.


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