BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greenhouse gases emitted by the European Union fell by 3.3 percent in 2011 to their lowest level since 1990, the European Environment Agency said on Wednesday.
The 2011 decline, which coincided with a 1.6 percent rise in GDP, was the result of a relatively mild winter, the agency said. It followed a rise in 2010 when a colder winter and a rebound in many economies drove up energy use, breaking a multi-year pattern of emissions' declines.
Jacqueline McGlade, the head of the European Environment Agency, which collects scientific data and advises EU policy-makers, said the EU was making progress towards its target of a 20 percent cut in emissions by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.
But she noted an increase in consumption of more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal by several EU countries. That is largely the result of the United States shipping cheap coal to Europe as it relies increasingly on shale gas fuel.
At the same time, EU countries are using less natural gas, which is around half as carbon-intensive as coal but more expensive in Europe, with consumption down 11 percent in 2011.
Almost two thirds of the 2011 emissions reduction was from Britain, France and Germany, while Bulgaria, Romania and Spain recorded the biggest increase in the volume of emissions.
Although fossil fuel consumption fell by 5 percent in the European Union, the average carbon intensity of fossil fuels rose, the EEA said, a reflection of the greater use of coal.
The EEA will publish early estimates for 2012 later this year. Early estimates published by EU statistics office Eurostat point to a roughly 2 percent decrease between 2011 and 2012.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis)