(Press release: Thursday 30 May)

New official greenhouse gas emissions data shows that Europe had already achieved its 2020 climate target back in 2011, just three years after the target had initially been set, according to climate change think tank Sandbag.

In 2008, the EU committed itself to cutting emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, but new figures released by the European Environment Agency yesterday already show Europe’s emissions down by 17%. But even that figure may underestimate Europe’s progress.

Responding to the new data, Sandbag's Senior Policy Adviser, Damien Morris said: “What the Environment Agency doesn't show is the emissions reductions that Europe has bought in from other countries as carbon offsets to count towards its 2020 target.”

By factoring the 252 million offsets surrendered by EU companies in 2011 as part of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, Sandbag finds that Europe’s net emissions are, in fact, already 21.4% below 1990 levels.

EEA 2011 emissions

Since setting the 2020 target, European policymakers have fiercely debated whether to cut emissions more aggressively to 30%, with analysis from the European Commission showing that this would be a more cost-effective pathway to Europe’s long term climate goals in 2050. Several Member States including Germany, France, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia and the UK have openly called for Europe to step up its ambition while others like Poland have strongly opposed the move.

Sandbag’s Morris continues, “Europe has until Spring next year to increase the target it has pledged under the Kyoto Protocol. As the world’s nations prepare to agree a new international climate deal in 2015, this would be a powerful gesture, encouraging other countries to adopt the ambitious targets we desperately need if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Failing to revise the target, on the other hand, will leave Europe doing nothing to fight climate change for most of the next decade.”