Solutions to Global Warming in Europe
Solutions to global warming pursued by the European region include binding national commitments to reduce emissions, the multi-national cap-and-trade program known as the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme, and strong supports for its renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.
The European region, encompassing 52 countries, bears a significant responsibility for its historical contributions to global warming pollution. This region is home to six of the top 20 annual global CO2 emitters, including Russia, which ranks third globally (using 2008 data).
The European Region, however, is also home to a robust renewable energy sector and has achieved deep renewable energy penetration. In 2009 alone, the deployment of renewable energy resources enabled the EU to reduce its CO2 emissions by about 7 percent against 1990 levels. Furthermore, nearly 20 percent of electricity in the EU in 2009 came from renewable sources. Many European countries appear to be on a path of reducing emissions and increasing efficiencies and renewable energy—given this region's historical and current emissions, these actions are urgently needed.
European Union Climate Commitments and Progress. In 2006, the European Union (EU), which consists of 27 members, committed to reducing its global warming emissions by at least 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, to consuming 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and to reducing its primary energy use by 20 percent from projected levels through increased energy efficiency.1 The EU has also committed to spending $375 billion a year to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.2 The EU is meeting these goals through binding national commitments which vary depending on the unique situation of a given country but which average out to the overall targets. Europe has also made important commitments to international climate finance to help developing countries transition to low-carbon energy sources, reduce tropical deforestation, and adapt to climate change. One noteworthy example is Norway's commitment of $1 billion to compensate Brazil for its emissions reductions.
European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The European Union's Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is the world's first, and largest multi-national cap-and-trade program for reducing heat-trapping emissions. This program includes 27 countries and all large industrial facilities, including those that generate electricity, refine petroleum, and produce iron, steel, cement, glass, and paper.
The first phase of the EU ETS—from 2005 to 2007—drew criticism for not achieving substantial cuts in emissions, excessive allowance price volatility and for resulting in windfall profits for some utility firms that received carbon allowances for free but were able to pass through their full cost to consumers in the form of higher electricity prices. These criticisms are valid. However, the EU viewed Phase 1 as a trial learning period. The extent to which Phase 2—which runs from 2008 to 2012—helps Europe fulfill its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions will be a better test of the program.
Promoting Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. Europe is home to several powerhouses of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Norway, Austria, Portugal, Spain and Germany among others have had great success increasing the amount of renewable energy produced in their countries through the use of feed-in tariffs. Feed-in tariffs provide a specific, guaranteed price for electricity from renewable energy sources—typically over a 10-20-year period. These tariffs have led to a massive increase in the amount of renewable energy projects in these countries. Norway gets over 99 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, often producing more than it requires and exporting the energy to other countries. More than 16 nations in Europe produced 15 percent or more of their electricity from renewable sources in 2007.3
- European Commission. The EU Climate and Energy Package. Online at http://ec.europa.eu/ clima/ policies/ package/ index_en.htm. ↑
- European Commission. A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050. Online at http://ec.europa.eu/ clima/ documentation/ roadmap/ docs/ com_2011_112_en.pdf. ↑
- European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport, EU Energy in Figures 2010. Online at http://ec.europa.eu/ energy/ publications/ doc/ statistics/ ext_renewables_gross_electricity