The UK cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6%, more than any other European country in 2011.

The UK made the biggest emission cuts in absolute terms, with a reduction of 36 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2 eq.) in 2011, or 6%. This was followed by France (24 Mt CO2 eq., 5%) and Germany (17 Mt CO2 eq., 2%).

The largest relative emissions decreases from 2010 to 2011 were registered in countries with small to medium shares of total EU greenhouse gas emissions: 13% in Cyprus, followed by 8% in Belgium, Finland and Denmark.

Nine EU member states increased emissions between 2010 and 2011. Bulgaria increased emissions by 11%, while Lithuania increased by 3% and Romanian emissions rose by 2%. However, these countries have made some of the deepest cuts in emissions overall since 1990.

Although economic factors played a part in certain countries, it is notable that the EU economy overall grew by 1.5% while emissions fell by 2.5%. Most of the countries registering the deepest cuts in emissions had positive growth in 2011, but the recession in the UK may have been a factor in its achievement.

A warm winter in most countries was also influential in cutting emissions, as the demand for fossil fuels for heating was lower than in previous years.

The results come in figures released by the European Environment Agency, which show that the EU as a whole will meet its target under the Kyoto Treaty, which requires developed countries to cut emissions by a total of just over 5% from 1990 levels by the end of 2012.

The EEA report ‘Approximated EU greenhouse gas inventory: early estimates for 2011’ gives early estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and provides a key input to the report on ‘Greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe 2012’, which assesses progress against the EU’s commitments under the Kyoto protocol.

EU member states are the only major countries pledging to continue the Kyoto protocol beyond the end of this year, when it expires.

Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action, said this showed that it was possible to cut emissions while boosting economic growth.

"The EU is delivering on its Kyoto commitment," she said. "While our economy grew 48% since 1990, emissions are down 18%. These figures prove once again that emissions can be cut without sacrificing the economy. Now, it is important to keep the direction."

The EU is also on track to exceed its commitment, set out at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, to cut emissions by 20% by 2020.

"The European Union as a whole will over-deliver on its Kyoto target," said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA. "In two months' time we will be at the end of the first commitment period under the Kyoto protocol. Considerable progress has been made since 1997 but all member states need to deliver on their plans."

A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change welcomed the news but added: "We are not complacent and there is a huge amount of work to be done, both domestically to drive up energy efficiency and decarbonise our heating, power and transport, and working with our international partners to renew the Kyoto protocol agreement during the upcoming talks in Doha, and our European partners to increase ambition at the EU level."

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor