10 largest European economies’ carbon reductions scorecard

To mark one year since COVID-19 lockdowns began, we have launched a scorecard ranking the electricity generation carbon reductions of the 10 largest European economies’ since the start of national lockdowns last year. Across Europe’s 10 largest economies, emissions fell by 7% (36.7MtCO2 to 489.1Mt) from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. That’s more than the combined emissions of Austria and Spain over this period.

The impact of the pandemic alongside the phase-out1  of coal in certain European markets accelerated the pace of the electricity system transition across the continent, with the share of renewables reaching levels not expected for another 10 years. Our scorecard highlights the leaders and laggards across the continent. The data, from the Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab, shows a significant disparity in CO2 emissions reductions in the electricity generation of the continent’s largest economies over the past year of lockdowns.
  • COVID-19 EU CO2 Emissions Scorecard
  • Austria took the crown with the largest percentage drop in emissions – 28.8% year on year. This achievement was enabled by the closure of the country’s last coal plant in April 2020.2
  • However, Austria is seventh when considering the actual tonnage of emissions cut (1.7MtCO2 to 4.2Mt) due to the country’s relatively low electricity sector emissions.
  • Spain came second but achieved the largest total drop in tonnes of carbon emissions by slashing emissions by 24.1% (10.2MtCO2 to 32.1Mt), enabled by the successful closure of seven of its 15 coal plants in June 2020.3
  • The Netherlands took third place as generation fell 17.9% despite the load increasing 3.9%. The country imported almost 40TWh (net) from Germany, the UK, Belgium and Norway.
  • In fourth place is Italy, cutting 7.8% (6.2MtCO2 to 72.9Mt) of emissions. This was achieved by a low load (-5.1%), alongside lower coal (-15.5%) and gas generation (-1.5%). As a general trend, Enel is closing down coal in Italy and switching to gas.4
  • The UK had the fifth largest fall in electricity sector carbon emissions, as a percentage, since 1 April 2020.
  • UK energy emissions fell by 7.6% (4MtCO2 – equal to the total annual emissions of nearly 500,000 UK citizens5 to a total of 48.6Mt) due to a 5.4% drop in total load and a 42.2% reduction in coal generation.
  • Germany, the EU’s largest economy, came seventh with a reduction of 1.8% (2.9MtCO2 to 154.2.). However, generation actually fell 4.1%, resulting in slight increase in carbon intensity of 2.4%.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic is like achieving a gold medal while spraining both ankles in the process. We’ve achieved record breaking carbon reductions, but our global economy has been put under intense strain. One year since lockdowns began, we must now focus on a strategic, scientific and intelligent approach to cutting carbon emissions that enables us to achieve to Paris Agreement while actually benefitting our economy and improving our quality of life. Energy demand will rebound, and emissions with it. We need to capture this moment and be ambitious with our investments in renewables and flexible technologies while they remain highly competitive.

The Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab is a free-to-use data platform to help the industry, policy makers and the public understand the impact of COVID-19 on European electricity markets and analyse what this means for future energy systems. The goal is to help accelerate the transition to 100% renewables.


To learn more about how Wärtsilä can help you navigate the seas of energy transition please visit:

1. https://beyond-coal.eu/2020/04/17/austrias-last-coal-plant-closes-increasing-european-coal-phase-out-momentum/

2. https://beyond-coal.eu/2020/04/17/austrias-last-coal-plant-closes-increasing-european-coal-phase-out-momentum/

3. https://electrek.co/2020/07/01/spain-closes-nearly-half-of-its-coal-fired-power-stations/

4. https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/coal/090920-enel-lines-up-three-italian-coal-closures-for-early-2021

5. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/british-carbon-footprint-africa-emissions-oxfam-climate-change-a9271861.html. Average Brit emits 8.34tCO2a year. 4 million / 8.34 = 479,616

Author

Tony Meski

Tony Meski

Senior Market Development Analyst at Wärtsilä Energy Business


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