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UK greenhouse gas emissions rose 5 per cent in 2021

UK greenhouse gas emissions rose nearly 5 per cent in 2021 after 2020’s record lows, according to official statistics.

However, the provisional data for 2021 reveals that climate pollution remained more than 5 per cent below 2019 levels, reflecting the ongoing impact of Covid-19 restrictions.

Total greenhouse gas emissions were up 4.7 per cent in 2021 on 2020 levels, reaching 424.5 million tonnes, but were 5.2 per cent lower than 2019.

Pollution from key greenhouse gas carbon dioxide was up 6.3 per cent year-on-year, with increases in all sectors, led by a 10 per cent jump in transport emissions, the statistics from the Business Department (Beis) show.

Looking over the long term, greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 were 47 per cent below what they were in 1990.

The biggest driver of the long-term fall in emissions is a decrease in pollution from power stations, as electricity generation shifts away from coal towards gas and renewables.

Separate data from Beis shows a drop in renewable generation from a record high in 2020, due to less favourable weather conditions.

Overall, renewables accounted for 39.3 per cent of total generation in 2021, down on the record 43.1 per cent in 2020 but still the second-highest level ever achieved.

Meanwhile, nuclear power was down to its lowest level in the data as plant outages continued, while fossil fuels were up.

A decrease in renewable and nuclear generation meant low-carbon sources represented 54.1 per cent of generation in 2021, 5.1 percentage points lower than in 2020.

The climate and energy data comes alongside the latest findings from Beis’ quarterly public attitudes tracker, revealing 85 per cent of the public are "concerned" about climate change, with 43 per cent saying they are "very concerned". The figures for winter 2021 were unchanged from the autumn.

An increasing proportion of the public are aware of the concept of net zero – cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero overall. The UK has a legal target to achieve the shift by 2050.

In winter 2021, more than nine in 10 (91 per cent) people were aware of the concept of net zero, a significant increase from the 87 per cent recorded in the autumn. Half of the people quizzed felt they knew a lot or a fair amount about the concept, up from 46 per cent in autumn 2021.

Emissions and air pollution continue to be an issue for all countries of the world.

Last week, an analysis of World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution data revealed that not one single country had managed to meet the WHO’s PM2.5 annual air quality guidelines.

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