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UK emissions drop by 29 per cent since 2010, further falls more difficult

Image credit: reuters

The UK’s CO2 emissions have dropped by 29 per cent in the last decade, according to Carbon Brief, even though the economy grew by a fifth during this time.

The climate website said that last year’s reduction came primarily from a 29 per cent reduction in coal use, which has been consistently falling over the last decade.

In September 2019, the amount of coal burned in the country fell to the lowest levels since the Industrial Revolution, only contributing 2 per cent of electricity generation. Other fossil fuels only saw minimal declines, with oil dropping 0.9 per cent and gas just 0.1 per cent.

Although these falls are small, they occurred despite the fact that road traffic rose by 0.8 per cent. This was largely attributed to an increase in electric car ownership, which surged towards the end of the year.

Carbon emissions fell for the seventh year in a row in 2019, the longest consecutive period in history for the UK.

Last year’s 2.9 per cent drop is a slight increase on the 2.5 per cent in 2018, a figure that climate campaigners at the time said was not enough for the UK to meet its legally binding targets as set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Excluding years with general strikes, pollution is at its lowest level since 1888. The biggest contributor to falling emissions over the decade has been improvement in energy intensity - the amount of energy needed for each unit of economic output - which reflects how energy efficiency has improved.

To meet the UK’s carbon budgets, CO2 emissions would need to fall by another 31 per cent by 2030 and government projections expect just a 10 per cent cut based on current policies.

Furthermore, with coal now representing only a small proportion of the UK’s energy mix, there is now very limited scope to make further cuts so carbon savings will need to be found elsewhere.

One such area could be domestic gas use which has declined by 20 per cent since 2010 due to energy efficiency improvements like condensing boilers and greater insulation. But the majority of homes are still far below the Government’s energy efficiency target and making improvements to millions of homes is more difficult than making alterations to centralised facilities like coal plants.

Transport has also become the largest carbon emitter, overtaking the power sector, and a shift to electric vehicles requires massive changes to infrastructure and vehicle ownership. Around a third of transport emissions are from vans and trucks while cars represent around 55 per cent. The rest comes from domestic aviation, shipping and railways.

Responding to the analysis, Energy UK’s interim chief executive Audrey Gallacher said: “That the UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by almost a third over the last decade, to the lowest level since 1888, shows how quickly the energy sector has been moving to low-carbon generation - and as this analysis shows, importantly this transition has been partnered by economic growth.”

Gallacher cautioned that with less than 30 years to go to meet the legally binding target to reduce the UK’s emissions to net zero by 2050, the transformation needed to go “further and faster than this” and in areas such as heating and transport.

“That’s why the forthcoming Budget and energy white paper need to show widespread ambition and action across these areas and unleash much more of the innovation and investment that has delivered these results over the last decade.”

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