Return to coal-fired power generation in some parts of Europe it has not prevented strong progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the data shows.
November emissions for the EU were the lowest in at least 30 years, as were gas consumption, electricity sector carbon and power generation from fossil fuels. according to the Center for Research in Energy and Clean Air.
Frost this month it may result in more coal and gas flaring in December, after an unusually mild November. Germany missed its consumption reduction targets of gas in cold conditions, the German network agency said.
But only a small proportion of last month’s drop in fossil fuel use can be attributed to weather, according to the Center for Research on Energy and clean air analysis. Mild temperatures contributed to a 6% reduction in gas demand outside the power sector, mainly for heating, while real demand fell 26%. Within the power sector, milder temperatures may account for two percentage points of the 12% drop in demand, according to analysts.
Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst and author of the report, said the data showed that accusations against the EU of backtracking on climate commitments were wrong. “There has been a very widespread perception that Europe is going backwards on climate change because of the war in Ukraine,” she said. “There was frequent comments in this regard in Cop27, saying that Europe was going back to coal. We are showing that this has not been the case: there was a misreading of coal consumption.”
Some member states, including Germany and Poland, have sought a limited return to burning coal for power generation in the face of rising gas prices and supply restrictions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UK has also put coal-fired power plants on hold.
In November, the EU as a whole used less coal than in the same month last year and than in the same month for the last three decades. Germany and Poland used less coal than a year ago, although Finland increased its coal use slightly.
There were dramatic reductions in the production of nuclear reactors in Germany and France. In Germany, that was offset by an increase in wind and solar generation, while France substantially reduced its demand for power.
However, this month’s cold wave, with temperatures about 5C lower than usual for the time of yearand snow and ice conditions in much of northern Europe could halt progress in reducing fossil fuel use this winter.
Myllyvirta said: “Everything is conditioned by the weather. If we have a big cold snap, we’ll see more gas burning.”
He said the first signs for December were that the trend to reduce emissions was continuing. The first half of December saw colder weather than the previous year, he added, but total emissions remained well below 2021 levels, showing that the reduction in gas and electricity use was not primarily due to weather.
However, emissions from the electricity sector started to rise again in December. Myllyvirta said the sector was still affected by the poor performance of nuclear power and wind conditions were also bad, but reduced gas use outside the power sector caused emissions to fall across the board.
He added that the Europe energy transformation this year showed that the underlying trend was strongly away from fossil fuels. “If someone had said a year ago that Europe could almost eliminate dependence on Russian fossil fuels in 10 months, they would have been taken for a complete lunatic,” he said. “But we’ve come pretty close to doing it, and that’s pretty remarkable.”
He added that governments must try to protect their most vulnerable citizens from the dangerous effects of rising energy prices who have forced such a sudden change. Europe could go further to decouple from Russian energy and fossil fuels more generally, but that should be managed fairly, she said.
“It is unfortunate that much of this reduction [in fossil fuel use] has gone through the high prices, what is having major social and economic impactsMyllyvirta said.