The European Environment Agency this week published its latest research on greenhouse gas trends in the European Union and found that last year's emissions continued a decreasing trend established in 2004.
The agency determined emissions from the 27-member European Union have fallen 18 percent since the 1990 baseline year, including 2.5 percent in 2011 when compared to 2010.
Europe's Kyoto target for 2020 is a 20 percent reduction.
The EU-15 of Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden reported an even larger decrease in emissions from 2010 at 3.6 percent.
The substantial greenhouse gas cuts have come despite a 48 percent jump in the European Union's gross domestic product since 1990 and a 1.5 percent rise last year, the EEA said.
"While the economy has grown significantly, emissions in both the EU-27 and the EU-15 have been decreasing, which demonstrates that the decoupling of economic growth from (greenhouse gas) emissions has been progressing steadily since 1990," the agency said.
The EEA concluded that projections indicated the EU-15 is "well on track to reach its Kyoto target. The estimate shows that the target is likely to be overachieved."
EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard praised the results of the report, saying they prove tackling climate change doesn't have to come at the expense of growth.
"The EU is delivering on its Kyoto commitment," she said. "While our economy grew 48 percent since 1990, emissions are down 18 percent. These figures prove once again that emissions can be cut without sacrificing the economy."
Hedegaard warned, however, that achieving the final 2 percent emissions reductions needed to reach the Kyoto levels isn't a foregone conclusion.
"Now, it is important to keep the direction," she said. "Reaching the 20 percent target in 2020 does not come automatically. It calls for continued efforts. Furthermore, through new initiatives and legislation, like the Energy Efficiency Directive, the EU is on track to reduce more than the 20 percent."
The EEA report also assessed the performances of individual countries. Britain led the way with emissions reductions of 36 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011 -- a 6 percent slide -- while France fell by 5 percent and Germany by 2 percent.
Nine EU-15 members, however, were on track to miss Kyoto targets, the report said. The biggest among them were Spain and Italy, which were on a pace to miss Kyoto targets by 17 and 6 percent, respectively.
Those countries, whose economies are reeling from recession and debt issues, will be faced with having to buy carbon credits under the United Nations' emissions trading system if they can't reduce their emissions enough, The Guardian reported.
Carbon credits -- around $6.50 per cwt -- are relatively cheap but the countries could still be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars if the goals aren't met.
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