Last week, while Environment Ministers met to discuss the EU negotiating position for this year’s climate talks in Doha, two documents were released which should make them rethink the conditional 20%/30% climate target they have currently offered.

Much of last week’s meeting was spent trying to resolve Europe’s position on what to do with as much as 13 billion unused carbon allowances that are expected to be left over when the first Kyoto period ends this year. Disappointingly, Ministers failed to agree to try and prevent these allowances from compromising future climate targets. But as that debate rages on, new evidence points out how much those future targets also need to be adjusted.

The day before the Environment Council convened, the European Environment Agency published its routine early estimates of Europe’s progress towards its Kyoto targets. The EEAs headline finding, that Europe’s emissions were 17.6% below 1990 levels, was eye-opening enough, and was widely reported in the press. What did not get picked up was that this only reflected Europe’s domestic emissions before offsets were taken into account.

The EEA notes that the Kyoto targets do not include international aviation emissions while the EU27 climate target does. As aviation emissions have grown since 1990 this means that the EU is more like 16.2% of the way towards its 2020 target before offsets are included.

But by factoring in offsets surrendered into the EU ETS in 2011, we find that the EU27 has effectively beaten it’s -20% climate target for 2020 with nine years to spare! The Environment Agency has since confirmed that our interpretation of the data is correct, and that Europe is likely to be 20.7% below its 2020 target.

EU 27 GHGs minus ETS Offsets

This new emissions data makes a total mockery of Europe’s current 2020 ambitions, which now look more like a decade of climate inaction. This point was rammed home by a leaked draft of the Commission's draft report on the EU ETS EC Draft ETS report 2012 , which reiterates their analysis that the scheme stands to accumulate some 2 billion allowances by 2013 – a surplus that, if anything, is likely to grow out to 2020. The document again shows that removing as few as 1.4 billion of these 2 billion spare ETS allowances would be sufficient to align the scheme with a 30% target. They also note that such a move could align the scheme with Europe’s 2050 climate goals of reducing emissions 80-95% below 1990 levels.

While only an unpublished draft, it was encouraging to see the move to 30% target at the top of the Commission’s list of proposed structural reforms to the ailing scheme, and also to see the report emphasize the value of restoring incentives via measures which increase the environmental ambition of the ETS rather than focusing on price fixes alone. We look forward to seeing how this debate unfolds once the final report is formally published in November, and hope this can start to inject some ambition into the EU target and the international negotiations.