Official government estimates suggest UK emissions now at 1890 levels, with hopes that transport emissions are finally dipping
The UK’s carbon emissions fell by three per cent last year, thanks largely to the ongoing decline in coal power in the country’s electricity system.
Official estimates released this morning by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Department also suggest emissions from transport – the largest greenhouse gas contributor to the UK economy – are finally on the way down.
Emissions from the power sector fell 10 per cent last year on 2017 levels, while transport emissions fell by three per cent, mainly thanks to gains in fuel efficiency, according to BEIS. Wind provided a record 17.1 per cent of the UK’s electricity last year, with 9.1 per cent from onshore wind and eight per cent from offshore wind – both new annual records.
Overall CO2 emissions are now down to a level not seen in the UK since the 1890s.
The results continue an historic streak of declining emissions for the UK, which has been steadily reducing national carbon dioxide emissions since 1990. The BEIS statistics put the UK’s CO2 emissions at 39 per cent below 1990 levels, just ahead of Carbon Brief estimates last month which pegged emissions decline at 38 per cent between 1990 and 2018.
The UK’s legally binding climate change target requires emissions to fall to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Much of the heavy lifting has been down by the power sector. In 1990 coal accounted for 65 per cent of UK electricity generation, with the role of renewables such as wind and solar negligible. Coal power now accounts for just five per cent of electricity generation, with renewables and nuclear delivering 53 per cent.
Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth Claire Perry said the UK continues to “lead the way” in reducing its emissions while maintaining economic growth. “More than half of our electricity comes from low carbon sources thanks to more than £52bn of government support for renewable projects in the UK since 2010, all part of our modern Industrial Strategy,” she said.
However, many commentators have repeatedly warned more action must now be taken to reduce the emissions from other sectors of the economy. Yet emissions residential buildings, agriculture and industry remained flat between 2017 and 2018.
Max Wakefield, director at 10:10 Climate Action, pointed out that the rate of emissions savings has slowed in recent years as the big gains from driving coal off the grid have been banked. “The biggest factor in recent reductions has been the drastic reduction in coal fired power – but you can only kill coal once,” he said. “To get to grips with the climate crisis the government must next tackle big challenges, like making our homes and workplaces efficient, affordable and zero carbon within the next two decades.”
Earlier this month Chancellor Philip Hammond announced new measures to improve the sustainability of new build homes, including plans to outlaw fossil fuel heating system in new homes from 2025. The government said it recognises “the need to go further to meet our challenging carbon reduction targets”.