EU CO2 emissions reached a 30-year low in November

This November saw the lowest values for the month in the EU in at least 30 years for

  • total CO2 emissions
  • gas consumption
  • power sector CO2 emissions
  • power generation from fossil fuels

Power sector CO2 emissions and coal use fell for the third month in a row. Total CO2 emissions have been falling since July, pulled by dramatic reductions in fossil gas use in industry and buildings.

These findings are based on CREA’s near-real-time tracking of EU CO2 emissions. 

There were widespread expectations that the fossil fuel crisis would lead to an increase in the EU’s emissions. This was based on a misunderstanding: the EU was increasing fossil fuel imports from around the world, but the reason was not an increase in consumption. Rather, EU utilities were scrambling to replace the lost supply from Russia, as the country cut off gas exports to the EU and the EU in turn banned coal imports from Russia. In addition, weak nuclear and hydropower output were leading to increased demand for coal and gas in early 2022.

The reduction in emissions is caused by the impact on high prices on demand, combined with increases in wind and solar power output. Hydropower output has recovered from the collapse that it experienced over the summer, but the French nuclear power operator EdF has not been able to meet its targets for reactor restarts, resulting in record-low nuclear output, again, in November.

In the power sector, both coal and gas-fired power dropped year-on-year in November. Coal gained share within thermal power generation, as the fall in gas-fired power generation was approximately four times as large as the fall in coal-fired generation.

Both wind and solar output made new records for the month (although solar is quite low in winter in absolute terms, of course).

However, the main driver of the fall in emissions are reductions in electricity and gas consumption prompted by the high prices.

Mild weather is not a major explanation for the fall in emissions, as it contributed a 10% reduction in gas demand outside the power sector while actual demand fell 26%. In the power sector, milder temperatures can account for 4%-points of the 12% drop in demand. In other words, approximately one third of the reduction in gas demand and power demand was due to milder weather than in 2021.

In other words, temperature-controlled gas demand fell by 20%, while temperature-controlled power demand fell 10% on year in November. The high energy prices are driving reductions in demand, both through energy-saving measures, such as lower indoor temperatures, and outright reductions in activity.

Temperature-corrected gas demand is derived from a regression model that predicts variations in gas demand based on the heating needs in each EU member state. We calculate daily population-weighted average heating-degrees (degrees below 15°C) from gridded temperature and population data.

The high fossil fuel prices are also encouraging a dramatic acceleration in investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, which will have a major impact on emissions over time.

Country-by-country trends in the power sector

Dramatic reductions in nuclear output took place in France and Germany. In Germany, the increase in wind and solar power generation made up for the closure of nuclear plants, and the small reduction in power demand ensured that both coal and gas-fired power generation fell year-on-year. The fall in France’s nuclear output remained massive, but an equally massive reduction in demand, combined with increases in wind and solar output, prevented an increase in generation from fossil fuels. In Spain, Belgium and Italy, increases in renewable power generation and reductions in demand combined to push down fossil fuels. In Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, there was no increase in clean power generation but fossil power generation fell regardless, due to reductions in demand.

December outlook

The first half of December had colder weather than the year before. Yet, total emissions remained well below 2021 level, showing that the reduction in gas and electricity use wasn’t mainly due to weather. Power sector emissions started increasing again in December, as the sector continues to be plagued by the poor performance of nuclear and wind conditions were also very unfavorable, but reduced gas use outside the power sector has kept emissions falling overall.