EU ETS Emissions 2019

Europe’s coal power collapse exposes steel plants as Europe’s biggest emitters

Dr Chris Rosslowe

Senior Energy & Climate Data Analyst

7 April 2020 | 4 min read



Fall in power sector emissions since 2013


Fall in coal power emissions since 2013

Executive summary

Europe’s coal-to-clean transition is underway

We are well on the way to coal-free electricity; now we need to start on coal-free steel.

Our analysis shows 2019 emissions fell by 7.8% (137 MT) to 1612 million tonnes (MT) of CO2, or 8.4% to 1541MT excluding aviation.

This is very similar to our January prediction (we forecast a fall of 7.6% to 1554MT, compared with the actual 8.4% fall to 1541MT).

  • 01

    We are well on the way to coal-free electricity.

    The data shows coal power emissions have fallen by 43% since 2013. However, coal power generation is still responsible for 30% of EU ETS emissions, so this job is far from finished. This is particularly true for lignite fuelled power stations which have seen slower emissions declines.

  • 02

    We now need to start on coal-free steel.

    For the first time, the biggest emitter in both the Netherlands and Spain is revealed as a coal-fired blast furnace. Coal-fired blast furnaces are also the biggest emitters in the UK, France, Austria, Finland and Slovakia. The steel sector makes up 8% of EU ETS emissions.

Key Findings

Europe’s coal power collapse exposes steel plants as Europe’s biggest emitters

Europe’s coal collapse

Power sector emissions fell by 13% (129 MT), due to Europe’s coal collapse in 2019. Hard coal fell by 28% (81 MT) and lignite fell by 18% (60 MT), offset by a 3% (12 MT) rise in gas & oil generation. In our analysis of the EU Power Sector, we show that around half the power sector emissions falls came from coal-gas switching, with the other half from new wind and solar installations.

Coal power emissions are now down by 43% since 2013 – hard coal is down 57% and lignite is down 26%. In that time, the remaining gas & oil generation emissions have risen by only 7%. This led to a 29% fall in total power sector emissions in just six years. Wind and solar have replaced coal, with help from an increasing carbon price and national coal phase-out policies.

Industrial emissions fell by 2%. This is more due to a fall in industrial production than efficiency increases. Industrial production fell 0.6% in 2019 according to EUROSTAT, including a 5% fall in steel production.

Aviation rose 7%. Jet2 had the biggest increase, of 11%. The biggest aviation emitter, Ryanair, increased by 6%, and is still the 9th biggest overall emitter in Europe.

Power sector decarbonisation has a long way to go

The power sector still accounted for over half (52%) of EU ETS emissions in 2019. Even after an impressive 29% fall in the last six years, rapid cuts to power sector emissions can continue. Lignite power plants emitted 17% of all EU ETS emissions (see graph below), yet generated only 9% of Europe’s electricity. Hard coal emitted another 13% of EU ETS emissions, despite generating only 10% of Europe’s electricity. The remaining gas+oil generation makes up 22% of EU ETS emissions. In total 844 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted from the power sector in 2019, summing to 52% of total EU ETS emissions.

More wind and solar is needed. While the power sector is making progress, annual renewables deployment must double from its 2010-2019 average in 2019-2030 just to meet existing EU targets.

Next, a lignite phase-out?

To ensure a further rapid decline in emissions, the phase out of lignite power plants is an urgent priority. The six major remaining lignite countries are: Germany, Poland, Czechia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Their lignite emissions are responsible for 17% of all EU ETS emissions, yet generated only 9% of Europe’s electricity.

Of the six countries, only Greece has a sufficiently ambitious timeline to phase-out lignite. Germany’s 2038 phase-out date is too late; it’s both incompatible with the Paris Agreement and an abdication of the required climate leadership from the EU’s largest economy. Similarly, while Czechia has a set up a coal commission which will set an end date for lignite, the dates currently under discussion do not reflect the urgency of the task at hand. In Poland, Romania & Bulgaria a phase-out of lignite is not even under discussion.

Hard coal is on a path to phase-out, with the exception of Poland. Poland’s hard coal emissions exceeded Germany’s in 2019 for the first time. This means Poland’s share of Europe’s hard coal emissions has doubled from 16% in 2013 to 33% in 2019. Poland needs to urgently address not only its lignite emissions, but also its hard coal emissions. Poland’s coal power accounts for 62% of its EU ETS emissions.

Lignite power plants still dominate Europe’s top-10 emitters list. The biggest emitter is Poland’s Belchatów lignite power plant, followed by six of Germany’s lignite plants.

Coal-fired steel plants enter the top CO2 emitters list

Coal-fired blast furnaces in 2019 were the biggest CO2 emitter in seven countries: the UK, France, Spain, Austria, Netherlands, Finland and Slovakia. It is the first time that steel plants in Spain and the Netherlands have had bigger emissions than coal power plants.

Here is the full list of the top 3 biggest emitters in every country in the EU ETS.