BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greenhouse gases from the European Union rose more than 2 percent in 2010 when a cold winter and a rebound in many economies drove up energy use, breaking a multi-year pattern of emissions declines.
The year-on-year rise in the official EU data released on Wednesday was slowed by emissions declines in struggling Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
Higher use of renewable energy and natural gas, which is lower in carbon than other fossil fuels, also limited the increase, but a collapsed carbon price has taken away the incentive for low-carbon investment and spurred carbon-intensive coal.
International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol said it would be a surprise to him if emissions did not continue to grow, chiefly because of the impact of a collapsed carbon price.
The IEA has already said global emissions hit a record in 2011.
“The carbon price is the most important thing. Without a carbon price, we do not give a signal to invest,” Birol told a European Parliamentary committee in Brussels.
To stimulate low carbon energy, the IEA has said a price of $50 a metric ton (1.1023 tons) is needed. That compares with current prices of less than 7 euros ($8.78) a metric ton on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Although gas use rose in 2010 because of lower prices, Birol said that in 2011 cheap carbon pushed up coal use in Europe by 6 percent, while natural gas declined by more than 10 percent.
From 2009-2010, EU emissions increased by 2.4 percent, or 111 million metric tons of carbon, a faster increase than gross domestic product, which grew by 2 percent.
The uptick followed consecutive years of reductions starting in 2004 and was explained in part by the sharpness of the earlier fall - 7.3 percent (or a drop of 365 million metric tons) - between 2008 and 2009.
While a cold winter drove up 2010 final energy demand by 3.7 percent, extra emissions were curbed by a 12.7 percent increase in renewable energy use and a 7.4 percent rise in gas use.
Overall, the bloc is easily meeting its Kyoto targets, according to the data published on Wednesday, which has been submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
For the 15 EU states that were members of the bloc when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was agreed, their greenhouse emissions in 2010 were 11 percent lower than in 1990, compared with the 8 percent fall required by their Kyoto commitment.
For all 27 nations, emissions were 15.4 percent below 1990 levels.
Among the greenhouse gases reported to the United Nations, carbon dioxide accounted for 82.4 percent of emissions.
Industry emissions of hydroflourocarbons (1.9 percent), which are extremely potent greenhouse gases, continued a rising trend identified since 1990, as air conditioning and refrigeration demand grew.
EU body the European Environment Agency (EEA) will publish early estimates for 2011 emissions later this year.
Carbon emissions for the sectors in the EU ETS, representing heavy industry and other big emitters, fell by more than 2 percent in 2011, but it does not necessarily follow that overall EU emissions fell.
Editing by Jason Neely and Alison Birrane