Decarbonisation in Lithuania and future projections


Despite the global community's efforts to reduce GHG emissions, the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the Earth's atmosphere is on average 2.2% higher over the last two decades compared to previous years. According to the information of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), in 2015, China (29.5%), the USA (14.3%) and the European Union (EU) countries (9.6%) were the major emitters of GHG. Germany is considered the biggest polluter in the EU, generating 2.2% of all GHG per year. Meanwhile, Lithuania ranked 96th in the world, and its GHG emissions in 2015 accounted for 0.035% of total GHG emissions.

In addition, although the overall growth in GHG emissions in Lithuania has slowed in recent years, much more ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement (from 2021) on climate change await us in the future, and further efforts are needed to achieve them.

The most polluting sectors of the country

The National GHG Inventory Report 2020 prepared by the Ministry of Environment together with the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Forest Service reveals that 20.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were emitted into the atmosphere in Lithuania in 2018, i.e. about 1.7% less GHG than in 2017. In 2018, a total of 3.9 million tonnes of CO2 removals were generated in Lithuania, mainly associated with forests and perennial grasslands land use subcategories.

As shown by the Lithuanian National GHG Inventory Report of 2020, the transport (30.2%) and energy (28.6%) sectors emitted the most GHGs in our country, followed by agriculture (21.1%), industry (15.6%) and waste (4.5%) emissions.

The biggest challenge is the growth in the transport sector – for example, GHG emissions in this sector increased by 6.4% in 2018 compared to 2017. This sector is considered as the largest source of GHG emissions. In the transport sector, this includes road, rail, air and inland waterway transport, road transport accounts for the largest share of pollution (95%). In road transport, the largest contributors to pollution are passenger cars (almost 60%) and heavy-duty vehicles (36%).

The main sources of emissions in the Lithuanian energy sector are the combustion of fuels for energy production (accounting for the largest share of CO2 emissions) and fugitive emissions, for example, in natural gas transmission networks (with the largest share accounted for by methane gas (CH4) emissions). While total GHG emissions from the energy sector in 2018 have been declining compared to 2017, GHG emissions from fuel use in manufacturing industries (7.2%) and heating households and commercial enterprises (2.9%) have increased.

The situation is also aggravated by agriculture – barely falling within the allowable GHG quota. In the agricultural sector, N2O was the major emission in 2018, amounting to 85.2% of the country's total N2O emissions, and CH4, which accounted for 56.7% of total CH4 emissions. Compared to the 2017, in 2018 the GHG emissions from agriculture decreased by 2.4%. N2O is released to the environment from soils, i.e. due to the use of synthetic and organic fertilisers, animal manure, crop residues, organic soil management and nitrogen mineralisation, as well as indirectly through the evaporation, leaching and run-off of nitrogen. The concentration of GHGs in the environment is also increased by the high amount of CH4 released due to the enteric fermentation of livestock.

Meanwhile, in 2018, the industrial sector in Lithuania accounted for 15.6% of total GHG emissions. This sector accounted for 13.4% and 5.9% of the total CO2 and N2O emissions in the country. In the industrial sector, GHG emissions mainly originate from the production of chemicals and mineral products. For example, the largest source of N2O in the industrial sector is nitric acid production, and the ammonia production process is the main source of CO2 emissions. Compared to 2017, GHG emissions increased by 13.5% in cement production, while the amount of fluorinated gases generated in the industrial sector in 2018 has decreased. The main source of these gases is the replacement of ozone-depleting substances with fluorinated gases in various areas. Fluorinated gases are usually released into the atmosphere during the maintenance, use and disposal of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment and fire extinguishing systems, as well as in the use of solvents and aerosols in some industrial processes.

In the waste sector, 4.5% of total GHG emissions in Lithuania were generated in 2018. In this sector, CH4 gas accounts for the largest, i.e. 21.6%, of the country's total CH4 emissions and N2O gas accounts for about 2% of total N2O gas emissions. The largest amounts of GHG emissions in the waste sector are generated by landfilling, composting, incineration, and waste discharge and treatment.

In light of these data, the transport, energy and agricultural sectors should be given the highest priority, and the reduction in GHG emissions is expected to have the greatest impact on the mitigation of climate change.

Additional emission allocation units may be required

Despite the country's total GHG emissions remain quite stable in recent years, the sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) have seen an increase of almost 12% over three years (2014–2017). In 2018 the EU ETS sector is estimated to emit 29% of total GHGs, while non-EU ETS sectors account for the remaining 71% of total GHG emissions.

The most significant impact on GHG growth in a sector outside the EU ETS is the transport sector, which emitted 30.2% of total GHGs in 2018, and agriculture, which accounted for 21.1% of total emissions in 2018.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change binds Lithuania, together with other EU countries, to reduce GHG emissions by at least 40% over the period from 2021 to 2030.

It is projected that, by 2030, a total of 92 Lithuanian stationary installations participating in the EU ETS ( >20 MW fuel combustion installations, and the chemical and other industry) and two aircraft operators, together with similar operators from other Member States, will have to reduce their GHG emissions by 43% compared to 2005. On the other hand, in sectors not participating in the EU ETS, such as transport, agriculture, waste management, etc., Lithuania will have to not exceed the annual GHG reduction limits set for the country and achieve 9% GHG emissions reduction target by 2030 compared to the emissions in 2005.

Taking into account the proportions of GHG emissions, the GHG emissions projections show that Lithuania will not be able to achieve its targets in the sectors not participating in the EU ETS over the period 2021–2030. Therefore, in accordance with preliminary estimates, from 2021 it could be short of about 9 million of the so-called annual emission allocation units, mainly due to rising GHG emissions from transport and agriculture.

If, however, the increase in GHG emissions in Lithuania is not under control by 2030, as required by the commitments, it may require funds from the state budget to purchase the missing emission allocation units from other EU member states. It is preliminarily estimated that Lithuania may have to spend between €63 and €180 million of budget funds on the purchase of additional emission allocation units instead of investing in measures to reduce global warming and increase economic growth.

How to reduce GHG in transport and agriculture

The GHG reduction situation is much more stable in companies participating in the EU ETS, which have specific requirements and which they comply with. The situation is somewhat different with non-ETS sectors. GHG emissions from non-ETS sectors in the EU tend to increase every year, as it is much more difficult to force the transport and agricultural sectors to comply with environmental requirements.

Although the country's population is declining, the number of cars and the amount of fuel they use continue to grow; the car fleet remains old, with many people driving technically unsound cars that emit CO2. In agriculture, pollution from agricultural soils has increased, in particular due to intensified use of arable land and chemical fertilisers. GHG emissions from soils have increased due to expanded crop areas and the application of intensive and unsustainable production technologies in the crop cultivation sector. Agriculture is also a problematic area because farmers enjoy a wide range of benefits incompatible with sustainable agriculture such as excise-free diesel use – which should be gradually phased-out in the future.

According to information from the Ministry of Environment, the reduction in GHG emissions in the agricultural sector will largely depend on the use of fertilisers on arable land and the number of livestock. Therefore, it is especially important for the Ministry of Agriculture to plan and implement additional measures to reduce GHG emissions from the agricultural sector: for example, to promote sustainable farming, crop rotation, increase the areas of perennial grassland, increase soil fertility (humus fraction), apply innovative technologies for manure management, apply biogas production, improve transparency of synthetic fertilisers accounting, promote their replacement with organic fertilisers, change the position of animal feed to reduce the release of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), organise education and awareness-raising for farmers, review the application of subsidies and tax incentives and other measures.

It is also equally important to identify legal and economic measures to increase the potential of the absorption of CO2 in the land-use change sector, which would ensure the sustainable use of land and the expansion of forest areas.

Meanwhile, in the country's transport sector as much as 95% of GHGs are emitted by road transport, 60% of which is accounted for by emissions from passenger cars. Therefore, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, for its part, should also envisage and put in place additional legal and economic measures to reduce pollution in the transport sector.

The key measures to reduce GHG emissions and meet the Paris Agreement's climate change commitments by 2030 relate to reducing GHG emissions from cars. For example, it is essential to promote more efficient use of energy resources and energy in the national transport sector by abandoning old vehicles and purchasing low-powered, alternative-fuel cars. No less relevant is the development of sustainable habits of mobility, more extensive public transport, cycle trails, infrastructure for electric car charging stations, electric cars, railway electrification, increasing transport permeability capacity and other similar measures.

With these measures in place, it is likely that non-EU ETS sectors of the country will make a significant contribution to the reduction of air pollution and decrease of GHG emissions.

Mitigation measures in the most polluting sectors

In order to achieve the maximum effect on climate change mitigation, Lithuania is already actively implementing the key measures outlined in the National Strategy for Climate Change Management Policy.

Energy. The increase in the country's GHG emissions is expected to be mainly influenced by the growth of electricity demand in the future. After the decommissioning of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, the amount of GHG emissions in the Lithuanian electricity sector depends in particular on the volume of electricity imports, the use of RES for electricity generation and the implementation of measures to increase the efficiency of electricity use.

Therefore, in order to reduce GHG emissions in the energy sector, energy efficiency is expected to increase; for example, a multi-apartment block modernisation programme helping to reduce energy losses due to the thermal leakage of buildings, as well as the production of energy from environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources. It is the wider use of RES for electricity and heat production and transport that makes it possible to reduce the use of increasingly expensive fossil fuels – in particular, natural gas and petroleum products.

Transport. Some of the key challenges for climate change mitigation and GHG emissions in the transport sector include promoting more efficient use of energy sources and energy consumption in the transport sector, increasing the standards of sustainable mobility, energy efficiency by encouraging the use of alternative energy sources (fuels) in transport and the creation of the necessary infrastructure, as well as the modernisation of the public transport fleet.

Among the most significant work of the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the Republic of Lithuania to mitigate climate change is the electrification of rail transport and the promotion of the use of electric vehicles.

In the near future (until 2022), using the investment of European Union funds, Lithuania plans to electrify the entire railway line intersecting the territory of the country in the east–west direction, from the Lithuanian-Belarusian border to Klaipėda. Electrification is critical from the environmental point of view, as electric trains will run more quietly and will not pollute the environment. Meanwhile, the conversion of most of the company's diesel rolling stock to electric vehicles will reduce the use of diesel fuel by about 25,000 tonnes per year, and CO2 emissions during the same period by about 50,000 tonnes.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications also plans to provide convenient installation of electric car charging stations near the main roads, with the hope that this will encourage residents to opt for electric vehicles and thus contribute to the fight against air pollution and climate change.

Agriculture. The main measures to reduce GHG emissions are the development of sustainable and saving agricultural practices, organic and environmentally friendly agriculture, greening measures, changes in grazing time, improvement of manure management systems and installation of biogas plants, as well as planting, maintenance and restoration of the forests.

According to reports, Lithuanian livestock farms are successfully reducing GHG emissions every year, and emissions in this sector decreased by as much as 13% in 2018 compared to 2005. The reduction in livestock emissions was due not only to the reduction in livestock numbers, but also to the implementation of measures for sustainable use of manure, such as the installation of manure storage facilities and the construction of biogas power plants.