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SUSTAINABLE ENERGY: A LONG WAY TO GO

Total energy consumption in Europe has been on the increase again since the mid-1990s and this trend is expected to continue in coming decades. Fossil fuels (especially gas and oil) are expected to remain the largest energy source in Europe for the next 30 years (Figure 2). The global warming impacts from this will have widespread social, economic and environmental implications across Europe for a long period to come (Box 1).

The Kyoto Protocol is a first step on the road to slowing global warming. It will formally enter into force on 16 February 2005. Current projections show that many Western European countries will not meet their Kyoto targets, while most Central European countries probably will (EEA 2004a). In Eastern European countries, which often have rich energy sources, the link between energy efficiency strategies and environmental issues is not a well-established policy concern as yet (OECD 2004).

In all of Europe, transition to a more sustainable use of energy will require substantial increases in energy savings and energy efficiency, and in use of renewable sources.

Box 1: Climate change and Russian agriculture

Scientists are beginning to get some idea of the impacts of climate change at sub-regional level (EEA 2004c, Alcamo and others 2003). While the conventional belief has been that climate change would bring clear net benefits to Russian agriculture and water resources, a recent study challenges this view (Alcamo and others 2003). The latter concludes that the predicted wetter and warmer climate over much of Russia may indeed result in higher crop yields and in the expansion of crop-growing areas. But expansion could be limited by poor soils, lack of infrastructure, and/or remoteness from agricultural markets. Better conditions for crops could also mean better conditions for pests, diseases and weeds.

Meanwhile, a dryer and warmer climate is predicted for the current crop growing and exporting areas of southeastern Russia. This could threaten productivity and cause more frequent years of bad harvest. Thus, gains in Russia 's potential new crop areas may be cancelled out by losses in current crop production areas.

Figure 1: With the 2004 EU expansion and the plans for future enlargements Western and Central Europe are becoming more and more integrated

Source: UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Europe

The recent steep rise in oil prices and instability in major oil producing regions have improved the prospects for large-scale use of energy conservation techniques and alternative technologies (EPI 2004, Pacala and Socolow 2004). Renewable energy production is increasing rapidly, but because it started from a small base, its proportion of total energy production remains small (Figure 2) (EPI 2004). Nuclear energy is projected to decrease slightly, mainly as a result of moratoria and phase-out policies, though some new nuclear power plants are still being connected (IAEA 2004).

Figure 2: Total energy consumption for the enlarged European Union, by fuel type

Source: EEA 2004a

Reaching a more sustainable energy system is a task for Europe's society as a whole at regional, national and local levels. It will require changed public attitudes towards consumption, innovative measures by governments and more voluntary action by industry. Policy measures could help by setting long-term targets to provide investment security, supporting innovation and alternative technologies, and adjusting energy prices and subsidies to reflect full environmental costs (EEA 2004a, OECD 2004). In addition, strategies are needed to adapt to unavoidable negative impacts of climate change (EEA 2004d).

 

 

 


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