UK carbon emissions reduced by two-fifths in 19 years

The UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by two-fifths since 1990 according to a new analysis which found that cleaner power and falling demand for energy across homes and industry are some of the main factors.

Analysts Carbon Brief said declines in the UK’s CO2 emissions have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis a decade ago.

In addition, while earlier reductions were largely negated by rising imports, the past decade has seen “genuine” cuts in the amount of CO2 for which the UK is responsible.

The single largest driver was found to be the introduction of a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal. This factor accounted for around 36 per cent of the emissions in 2017, the last full year for which figures are available. The pollution from electricity generation and use would have been nearly four times higher than it is without the modern changes to the grid, the assessment estimates.

This was followed by reduced fuel consumption by business and industry, responsible for about 31 per cent of the emissions reduction in 2017.

UK emissions have declined from around 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 1990 to 367 million tonnes in 2017.

The Carbon Brief analysis finds that with a growing population and without the changes that have driven down pollution, emissions would have grown from 1990 and have been twice as high as they were in 2017. Lower electricity demand due to changes in manufacturing and low-energy light-bulbs and appliances in homes, and emissions savings from more efficient vehicles have also played a part.

As the UK continues to phase out coal by 2025, emissions reductions are likely to continue.

Reductions in domestic emissions were largely cancelled out by rising carbon emissions associated with imported goods until the mid-2000s, but since 2007 that has not been the case, the analysis indicates.

In November, a report from the Committee on Climate Change recommended that hydrogen be used to help further decarbonise the UK energy system.

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