EU greenhouse gas emissions nearly back at pre-pandemic levels

Post-Covid economic rebound drives increase in carbon emissions in Europe

Some countries, including Germany, have had to turn back to coal-fired electricity generation to replace Russian gas. Bloomberg
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Greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels — despite a push to generate more clean energy in the bloc.

The EU's 27 economies produced 1.029 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent in the first quarter of this year, new official figures show.

That was 7 per cent higher than the same period in early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was first starting to unfold in Europe.

It was only fractionally lower than the last completely Covid-free first quarter, in 2019, when the EU produced 1.035 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The resurgence reflected a rise in emissions in 25 out of 27 states, compared with last year's lockdown-affected figures, with only the Netherlands and Finland bucking the trend.

Lower emissions were considered a silver lining of the pandemic in the early months of worldwide stay-at-home orders, but experts predicted correctly that it was unlikely to last.

"The documented increases were largely due to the effect of the economic rebound after the sharp decrease in activity due to the Covid-19 crisis," statistics agency Eurostat said.

The transport, mining and construction sectors had an especially large resurgence in emissions, it said, while pollution from households was similar to last year.

Greenhouse gas emissions tend to be higher in the first and last quarters of the year because colder weather leads to more demand for heating.

The EU has a target of slashing overall emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the end of this decade to meet its climate change goals.

The clean energy agenda was given a renewed push by the invasion of Ukraine, which led to reduced gas supplies from Russia and spurred the EU to seek sustainable alternatives.

However, some countries have had to turn back to coal-fired power plants, considered the dirtiest form of fossil fuel energy, to tide their economies over through a difficult winter.

EU countries last month agreed to aim for a 15 per cent cut in their gas consumption during the winter months to make their limited supplies go further.

In the longer run, plans are afoot to expand wind and solar energy, spur the growth of zero-emission cars on Europe's roads, and encourage companies to invest in sustainable activities.

However, environmentalists object to EU plans to label some nuclear and natural gas projects as sustainable for the purposes of such financing.

Updated: August 17, 2022, 2:09 PM