Each year, each member state of the European Union submits estimates of its greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations as part of its commitment to the Rio Convention. The most recent data were submitted in 2010 and cover the years 1990 to 2007. These numbers are added together by the European Environment Agency (EEA) to provide totals for the whole of the EU. All of the conclusions below are based on the EEA numbers and exclude the effect of changes in land use. In this way only social and industrial contributions are considered.
The actual emission estimates are shown in the accompanying graph, covering the years 1990 to 2007. These show a reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions of 4.8% relative to the baseline years1. However, within that reduction individual greenhouse gases have different trends.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are continuing to grow and to make the largest contributions. The average increase over the period 1990 to 2007 was 9.7 million tonnes/year and carbon dioxide accounted for 84% of European greenhouse gas emissions during 2007. Expressed on a common basis (as their carbon dioxide equivalents), methane (CH4) emissions were 7.5%, nitrous oxide (N2O) 7.1%, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) totalled 1.4%, perfluorocarbons (PFCs) 0.1% and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) 0.2%. Methane and nitrous oxide have actually declined over the period, by averages of, respectively, 8.5 and 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent / year. PFC and SF6 emissions also fell markedly relative to the 1995 baseline but their effect on total emissions was not significant2.
Emissions of HFCs grew, from 1% of the total in 1995 to 1.4 % in 2007 (or by 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent / year). This growth in emissions reflects both the part played by HFCs in the global conversion of refrigeration, air conditioning and insulation foam blowing away from CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the steps taken by chemical manufacturers to reduce byproduct emissions. It is apparent from the graph that, compared to the growth in CO2 emissions, the HFC change is not significant.
Because the baseline year for F-gases (HFCs, PFCs and SF6) is 1995 and not 1990 in the EU, all comparative calculations and statements should be made on that basis. This is the principal reason that the conclusions given above are different from those highlighted by the EEA (who used an inappropriate baseline of 1990), even though exactly the same basic data are used.
European Greenhouse Gas Emissions, expressed on a common basis as equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2)