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Climate change: EU emissions surpass pre-pandemic levels

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, emissions in the EU dropped sharply as lockdowns brought industries to a standstill and people worked from home. Those environmental gains have now been erased, new data shows.

Smoke can be seen coming from a ship at a dock in Germany

Emissions across the EU have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, new data shows

Greenhouse gas emissions from economic activities in the European Union returned to levels slightly higher than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the last quarter of 2021, the European Union's statistics office, Eurostat, reported on Monday.

The latest figures come as the EU looks to reduce dependency on Russian fossil fuels amid Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. The bloc is also striving to stay on top of its climate pledges and increase the share of renewables in the energy mix.

What did the data show?

All of the EU's 27 member states saw a year-on-year increase in the fourth quarter of 2021, but Estonia saw the biggest rise (+28%), followed by Bulgaria (+27%) and Malta (+23%), the Eurostat data showed.

Germany saw emissions rise by 5% in the same period.

Individual household consumption accounted for 22% of emissions in the last quarter of 2021. Manufacturing and electricity production both contributed 21% each, agriculture 12% and transportation and logistics was responsible for 11% of CO2 equivalents.

In total, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU reached 1,041 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents in the last quarter of 2021, an increase from 1,005 million tons in the same period in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, emissions in the EU had been down just over 4% on the same period a year earlier as people worked from home amid COVID restrictions. Other limitations, for instance on international travel, also contributed to unusually low levels of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. 

CO2 equivalents are a metric used to compare different greenhouse gases, such as methane, by converting their warming potential per metric ton to that of carbon dioxide.

Struggling to hit climate targets

Greenhouse gases are currently one of the main drivers of climate change. Scientists from the International Panel on Climate Change have warned that humanity must radically reduce emissions by 2030 in order to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels.

The 1.5 degree benchmark is regarded as the level of warming that might make it possible to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The EU has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 against its 1990 levels, and carbon neutrality — that is, no net carbon emissions — by 2050.

UN meteorologists have said that there is a 50-50 chance of hitting the crucial 1.5 degrees of warming within the next five years.

er/msh (dpa, KNA)