Defying expectations, EU carbon emissions fall to lowest level in 30 years

It was supposed to be a dirty fall and winter, with European nations scrambling to replace Russian gas with highly polluting coal. But according to the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research, the cold seasons have so far been the cleanest in more than 30 years.

“There were widespread expectations that the fossil fuel crisis would lead to an increase in EU emissions,” writes Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at CREA, in a new report. “It was based on a misunderstanding.”

Throughout the year, the EU increased its imports of fossil fuels from sources around the world. European utilities were scrambling to replace dwindling supplies from Russia, which halted gas exports and had its coal exports banned. Meanwhile, the drought has depleted hydro and nuclear power. While Germany chose to go nuclear free, France had an extraordinary number of power plants sitting idle for repairs and refueling. All of these factors prompted Europe to import fossil fuels, and many analysts expected emissions to rise as these imports were burned.

But by late fall, high gas prices had depressed demand for fossil fuels, while wind and solar set production records (for winter) to make up the difference, Myllyvirta says. . European hydropower has also recovered from a dry summer.

Emissions have fallen in the electricity sector and across the economy: “Total CO2 emissions have fallen since July, driven by dramatic reductions in the use of fossil gases in industry and buildings.”

European emissions fell to less than 8 metric tons per day, from more than 10 Mt/day in 1990. The drop in emissions could have been more pronounced if France had been able to restart more inactive nuclear power plants.

“French nuclear operator EDF was unable to meet its reactor restart targets, resulting in record nuclear output, again, in November,” writes Myllyvirta. Emissions are still down.

Mild weather may explain part of the drop in emissions in November, but not in December:

“The first half of December had colder weather than the previous year. Yet total emissions remained well below 2021 levels, showing that the reduction in gas and electricity consumption was not primarily due to weather conditions. Emissions from the electricity sector started to rise again in December, as the sector continued to be plagued by poor nuclear performance and wind conditions were also very unfavorable, but the reduction in the use of gas outside the electricity sector has led to an overall decline in emissions.

Wind generation jumped in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and especially in Germany, while solar generation increased in nine countries, led by Poland. The production increases, however, are overshadowed by a dramatic fall in overall electricity production, driven by a decline in fossil gas.

CREA’s observations are consistent with trends reported in October by the International Energy Agency. The carbon intensity of the world’s energy supply is falling thanks to renewables, the IEA reported, adding that renewables offset the use of coal which is expected to increase due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting decline in Russian gas exports.

“Even though the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine supported global coal demand in 2022 by making natural gas much more expensive,” the IEA said, “the relatively small increase in Coal emissions have been significantly offset by the expansion of renewables.”

CREA’s findings are based on its near real-time monitoring of EU CO2 emissions.

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