Renewable energies and greenhouse gases: the European situation

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In recent years the awareness of climate change is spreading ever-more. Think, for example, of Greta Thunberg’s activism and the birth of the environmental movement #fridaysforfuture, led by the young activist. In this scenario, Europe has shown its interest in undertaking a concrete action plan for the reduction of greenhouse gases and, more in general, for the health of our planet.

The objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, for the climate and energy sector, included:

This proposal was made by the European Commission on March 3, 2010 within the ten-year strategic plan that also involved 4 other areas: research and development, work, education and poverty reduction.

It is interesting to reflect on the close connection among these objectives. For example, decreasing energy consumption and increasing the share of renewables contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewable energies

Nowadays, everyone knows that burning fossil fuels releases large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, and that this increases the greenhouse effect and overheating of the atmosphere. This is reason why Europe fosters the exploitation of renewable energies.

The different renowable energies:

Compared to 2004, the EU managed to double the percentage of renewable energy (8.53%) and in 2017 it had reached 17.52%, approaching the 2020 target (20%).

The increase of the use of renewable sources is mainly due to technological developments, as well as, the decrease of the costs of renewable energy systems. There are several policy measures to foster this sector. These include grants, tax credits and the feed-in tariff. Moreover, there is the European program to boost the production of electricity from solar sources (so-called renewable energy incentives).

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable energy will cover 12.4% of global energy needs in 2023, a fifth more than 10.3% in 2018. These figures include the entire consumption of renewable energy, both that used to supply electricity and to heat buildings, as well as, that used for transport. Electricity is certainly the sector in which, over the years, the highest increase in renewable sources was recorded, reaching 29.6% in 2016. Instead, the transport sector is the one in which the less progress has been made: in fact, for fuel consumption the percentage of renewables stayed still at only 7.1% in the same year.

Although the focus on renewable sources has only grown in recent years, many of the major renewable energy companies already generate high levels of liquidity. Many of these offer relatively stable business models, which benefit from reliable sources of income from regulated markets.

2020 goals: what progress has been made by Europe?

The achievement of climate and energy goals could have enormous positive effects for the development of the European economy. There could be implications, in particular, as regards employment and the research and development sector. The European Commission calculated that even only the achievement of the 2020 goals on renewables would create over 600,000 jobs.

At this point, it is natural to ask how far Europe to reach the objectives set by the European Commission. Overall, as early as 2014, Europe achieved the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 22.4% compared to 1990. However, the situation is not homogeneous and even in some countries there were worsening. These are in particular Austria, Malta, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.

Among the countries with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions are 6 European countries.

The first is Luxembourg, followed by the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Denmark, Belgium and Sweden. It is important to know that the index for greenhouse gas emissions refers to the Kyoto protocol and considers as a starting point that the emissions of each country are equal to 100.

What exactly are greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases are those gases present in the atmosphere, transparent to solar radiation, so that they let pass through many of the radiation towards the Earth from the Sun. They also partially retain the infrared radiation emitted by the Earth. The famous greenhouse effect is caused precisely by this retention of infrared radiation. It is a natural phenomenon, necessary to regulate the temperature of the earth and, consequently, to the maintenance of life.

However, several human activities have caused an excessive increase in the greenhouse effect and this is causing a worrying increase in temperatures and for this reason we talk about global warming.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is a document containing measures to reduce emissions in industrialized countries for the period following the year 2000. But how was it achieved?

The European Commission participated, on behalf of the European Community, in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in New York on 9th May, 1992. The Framework Convention was ratified by the European Community by Decision 94/69 / EC of 15th  December, 1993 and entered into force on 21st March, 1994. After long preparatory work, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto on 11th December 1997.

Main greenhouse gases

The Kyoto Protocol concerns the emissions of six greenhouse gases:

This document represented an important step forward in the fight against global warming.

The Paris agreement

A few years later, the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed. This document, signed on 22nd April, 2016 and ratified by the European Union on 5th October, 2016, represents the first universal agreement and is legally binding.

As stated in article 2 of the aforementioned agreement:

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

The agreement is based on a transparency and communication system between the participant States. Also, much attention is paid to developing countries and the role of cities, regions and local authorities is recognized.

The comparison with other countries

Globally, since the 1990s, CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of fuels have increased by more than half. If we analyse carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the combustion of fuels at the per capita level, interesting differences emerge between geographical areas. Among the major CO2 producers, there are China and the United States. In the USA, a person produces, on average, more than twice as many emissions as a person in the European Union. The figure worsened in countries such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, but also Saudi Arabia, South Korea and, albeit slightly, Canada and Japan.

Few other countries worked as hard as Europe on energy and in the fighting against climate change. What distinguishes Europe is the desire to reconcile economic growth with environmental sustainability. Adopting a “green style”, investing in a greener economy, based on the use of renewable energies, can help contribute to sustainable growth.

The next steps: 2030 goals

In recent years, Member States have expressed their interest in strengthening their commitment to greater environmental sustainability. The Council of Europe has confirmed that it wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, increase the percentage of renewable energy to 32% and improve energy efficiency to 32.5%.

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