Silhouette of trees and carbon emissions in the distance

UK carbon emissions fall to 130-year low but progress appears to be stalling

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The UK’s carbon emissions fell for the sixth consecutive year last year mostly due to falling coal use new analysis shows.

The estimated 1.5 per cent reduction was attributed to a 16 per cent coal drop compared to a year earlier, whereas oil and gas use were largely unchanged.

But the report from Carbon Brief warned that there are signs the recent run of reductions could be coming to an end, with 2018 seeing the smallest fall in the six-year series.

Particularly large falls were seen in 2014 (8.7 per cent) and 2016 (5.9 per cent), the body said.

Emissions fell to 361 million tonnes, their lowest level since 1888, when the first Football League match was played and Jack the Ripper stalked London’s streets, excluding years with major strike action.

The amount of carbon pollution per person was 5.4 tonnes, the lowest it has been since 1858, the analysis indicated.

These findings are based on a Carbon Brief analysis of newly released energy use figures from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The department will publish its own CO2 estimates on 28 March.

BEIS figures showed only 6 per cent of UK electricity supplies came from coal in 2018.

The analysis found emissions were down 39 per cent on 1990 levels, the baseline year for carbon pollution cuts.

Since 1990, the UK has cut its emissions faster than any other major economy in the world, even as its GDP has continued to grow, Carbon Brief said.

A report last month found that UK carbon emissions had fallen by two-fifths since 1990 largely due to cleaner power and falling demand for energy across homes and industry.

With coal being the most significant contributor to the carbon savings, further success will be limited unless extensive efforts are made to cut emissions from oil and gas too.

The global picture for coal looks increasingly bleak as over two-fifths of the world’s coal-fired power stations are running at a loss and Germany, a major user of the fossil fuel, recently announced the closure of all its plants by 2038.

The government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned of the “worrying trend” in emissions beyond the power and waste sectors. These cuts have “masked” a lack of progress in the rest of the UK economy, it says, putting legally binding carbon targets at risk.

The housing sector is a case in point, according to another recent CCC report. Home CO2 emissions increased by 1 per cent in 2017, the most recent year with sectoral data available.

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