EU to Meet 2020 Climate Targets Thanks to Cheap Carbon Credits
By Paul Brown
Good news that the European Union (EU) will achieve its aim of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 has been tempered by criticism that, for most countries, the target has been too easy and that much more could and should have been done to help combat the threat of global warming.
A combination of the recession and vast quantities of cheap carbon credits available for countries to buy their way out of their obligations has meant that industry has been able to afford to pollute as much as it wants, and governments have made too little political effort to promote energy efficiency and to boost renewables.
The figures on carbon reductions are produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA) to keep track of what is happening in the EU and to make sure countries are keeping to their international obligations and EU law.
The agency presents a generally rosy picture on reducing emissions. However, targets to produce 20 percent of energy from renewables and achieve 20 percent energy efficiency gains are not going to be reached so easily, if at all.
The EEA report confirms for the first time that the EU exceeded its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Total emissions in 2012 were 12.2 percent below the 1990 levels—what the report calls an “overachievement of 5.5 percent.”
Cheap Way Out
This was due to the 2008 recession, a switch in electricity production from coal to gas and an increase in renewables. However, for industries and countries that did not reduce emissions enough, there was an easy lifeline to grab: there were 1.8 billion surplus allowances from industry for carbon credits under the EU trading scheme, providing a cheap way for polluters to buy their way out of trouble.
As a result of the same trends continuing, the EEA report suggests that the whole of the expanded EU is going to meet and even exceed its 20 percent reduction target by 2020, with most countries not having to make any further effort.
Since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005, the number of countries in the EU has expanded dramatically, while aviation has been included in overall emission targets. Partly as a result of these changes, carbon dioxide emissions have gone down even further, and so the report says that, for the larger EU in 2012, they were already 18 percent below 1990 levels. It concludes that, as a result, the 20 percent target is within reach eight years ahead of schedule.
The report also takes stock of the two other 2020 EU targets—a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency for every country in Europe, and a 20 percent production of energy through renewables. Here, the agency says the picture is more mixed.
Only four of the 28 EU member states—Bulgaria, Denmark, France and Germany—are making good progress in reducing energy consumption and primary energy intensity through “well-balanced policy packages across relevant sectors.” For most member states, the current policies are not sufficiently developed or implemented—partly due to insufficient enforcement.
The worst offenders are Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, which do not yet have policies in place to reach the 20 percent target on energy efficiency by the end of the decade.
The picture on renewable energy is better. The EU has exceeded its target of 10 percent of gross final energy consumption from renewables in 2010 by 3 percent. However, Europe needs to double the use of renewable energy by 2020, compared to the 2005–2011 period, if it is to reach the EU’s legally binding renewable energy target. Six countries are currently well below target—Belgium, France, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK.
In contrast, 14 member states had met or exceeded their 2011 targets and were continuing in the right direction. They are Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. Norway, outside the EU, is also doing so.
Non-governmental organizations that keep an eye on the EU and its attempts to combat climate change were not impressed by the EEA report. They say that that while it was good that targets were being reached, it showed that the EU was being unambitious and could have done far more.
“Science tells us that we need to reduce emissions by 95 percent in 2050 to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius,” said Eva Filzmoser, director of Carbon Market Watch. “It’s a travesty that countries spend billions on international offset credits instead of investing in energy efficiency measures and renewable energies on the home front.”
David Holyoake, a legal adviser with ClientEarth’s climate and energy program, said: “The report shows that member states will virtually not need to do anything between now and 2020 to reach some targets. This is a huge missed opportunity for further much-needed emissions reduction, especially in the buildings, agriculture and transport sectors.”
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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