Lisbon, Portugal . Picture: SUPPLIED
Lisbon, Portugal . Picture: SUPPLIED

Brussels — Most EU countries reduced carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, estimates showed Wednesday, marking a turnaround in the battle against greenhouse gases as campaigners urged faster action to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change.

Overall EU emissions from burning oil, coal and gas were 2.5% lower in 2018 than the previous year, Eurostat figures showed, with 20 of the bloc's 28 countries reporting reductions.

That was better than 2017, which saw combined emissions 1.8% higher than 2016 and only seven countries recording decreases, according to the EU's statistics office.

The EU has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

"After four years without substantial emission reductions, the EU has finally started to walk the road to the zero-carbon economy," said Wendel Trio, who heads the activist group Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

"To be able to avoid ever wilder extreme weather events, greater drought, food shortages and economic devastation, we need sharp falls in emissions every single year," Trio added.

Portugal took the lead with the sharpest decrease, Eurostat figures showed, recording a 9% drop in emissions from 2017.

It was followed by Bulgaria, with an 8.1% reduction. Ireland's was 6.8% lower and Germany's fell 5.4%. Britain was last in line, with a slim 0.3% decrease on 2017.

On the other hand, Latvia recorded the poorest result, with emissions up 8.5% from the year before. Other countries in the bloc whose emissions rose include Poland, which recorded an increase of 3.5%.

The EU has vowed to lead the way in saving the Paris climate agreement since the US, the world's second-biggest polluter after China, withdrew in 2017.

The pact aims to keep the worldwide rise in temperatures "well below" 2°C from pre-industrial times.

Germany, the bloc's most populous country and its most powerful economy, accounted for the largest share of the union's emissions in 2018, at 22%.

It was followed by Britain at 11.4%, Poland at 10.3% as well as by France and Italy, at 10% each. Germany, Britain, France and Italy are among the bloc's leading economies and have the largest populations.

Poland, whose population is significantly lower than the other top polluters, relies on antiquated coal-fired power plants to generate nearly all of its electricity, giving it some of the highest carbon emissions in the EU.