carbon emissions uk

UK halfway to net-zero emissions target, according to analysis

Image credit: reuters

The UK is halfway to meeting its net-zero carbon emissions goals according to an analysis by Carbon Brief.

Emissions currently sit around 51 per cent below 1990 levels following a tumultuous year that saw UK emissions fall 11 per cent due to the introduction of widespread lockdowns and restrictions on travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, the UK passed a law enshrining its commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.

However, this record-breaking drop is not anticipated to last, with rising economic activity in the second half of this year expected to boost emissions once again.

If trends since 1990 continue, the UK should be able to meet its 2050 target, although much of the carbon reductions achieved thus far have been due to changes in the electricity infrastructure such as the replacement of coal and other fossil fuels with renewables. The target also does not account for the UK’s significant imports of carbon-intensive products that are made overseas.

Decarbonising less centralised systems, such as cars and the transport sector in general, will prove to be a more complex endeavour. On average, cars saw a sizeable 28 per cent drop in miles driven during the first three quarters of 2020, although vans saw just a 16 per cent reduction, and trucks 14 per cent.

The analysis also showed that warmer weather led to decreased gas use of around 8 per cent, with almost half of the UK’s CO2 emissions now coming from gas. Most of this fall was attributed to lower gas-fired power generation, although reduced heating demand also factored.

For the first time, electricity generation from renewables outstripped fossil fuels in in 2020, with around 42 per cent for the former and 41 per cent for the latter.

“The likelihood of an emissions rebound as the economy recovers makes it all the more clear that the UK will need to focus on structural changes – rather than one-off events – if it is to meet its net-zero emissions target over the next 30 years,” the carbon brief report stated.

Greenpeace UK’s head of climate Kate Blagojevic warned the findings were not a cause for celebration as the UK was still a long way from reaching its climate commitments.

“Make no mistake, the scale of necessary future emission cuts are far greater than anything that has been managed during the pandemic,” she said.

“We need much more government funding, policies and political will to cut emissions from our homes, cars, industry and agriculture if we are to meet our climate targets once normal life resumes.”

According to an analysis from green energy policy network REN21, more than 1,300 cities globally had set targets or introduced policies to boost renewable energy by the end of 2020, while those enforcing complete or partial bans on fossil fuels like diesel and gas increased fivefold to 43.

Cities account for 55 per cent of the global population yet use around three-quarters of energy and are responsible for about 75 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, it noted.

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