UK carbon footprint falls over 20 per cent

The UK's total carbon footprint - used to cover consumption-related emissions wherever in the world they occur - fell by 21 per cent between 2007 and 2017, new Government data has revealed.

In order for GHG emissions to be classed as consumption-related, they much be either directly attributable to UK households; generated by the value chain of UK-produced goods and services used by UK residents; or embedded in the value chain of imported goods and services that were ultimately used in the UK.

The data reveals that the national carbon footprint stood at 772m tonnes of CO2e in 2017, down 21 per cent from the 2007 peak of 977m tonnes and down 9 per cent from 1997, when the current series of records began.

Defra analysts broadly attribute this trend to the decarbonisation of energy used to manufacture products; the ongoing shift to service-based models; and efficiency improvements.

On a shorter-term basis, the report also documents a 3 per cent year-on-year reduction in the UK’s carbon footprint from 2016 to 2017. According to Defra, this is in line with the year-on-year trends throughout the rest of the decade and is largely the result in reduced domestic travel, and of the use of renewable electricity by UK manufacturers.

As well as providing a broad overview, the report breaks down trends in emissions from each of the three sources classed as consumption-related.

Emissions generated by the value chain of UK-produced goods and services used by UK residents fell by almost one-third (31 per cent) between 1997 and 2017, as businesses invested in energy efficiency, resource efficiency and renewable energy.

But emissions directly attributable to UK housing stagnated. Every year since 1997, they have stood at between 140 and 160m tonnes of CO2e. While the UK’s housing stock has grown over this 20-year period, green groups including the Government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC)have repeatedly pointed out that policy action surrounding energy efficiency and low-carbon heat for homes has not been ambitious enough to meet key climate targets.

The picture for emissions embedded in imports, meanwhile, is more complex. A slight decrease from 361m tonnes of CO2e to 358m tonnes of CO2e was recorded from 2016 to 2017. This figure is 18 per cent higher than 1997 levels.

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