UK emissions still down 14% despite lockdown easing, Carbon Trust analysis finds

The UK's greenhouse gas emissions footprint is down 14% year-on-year per capita basis, new analysis of consumer spending data by the Carbon Trust has concluded.

The figures were calculated using spending data

The figures were calculated using spending data

The organisation analysed the purchases made by Lloyds Banking Group’s individual account holder across six key categories - food and drink, fuel, commuting, airlines, electrical stores and clothing stores – to calculate the carbon footprint of their lifestyles.

It concluded that spending on fuel, commuting and airlines had not only dropped sharply (41%) during lockdown, compared to the same period during 2019, but that spending in these areas has remained low after restrictions began to ease in July.

Spending on clothing was also down during lockdown and has not rebounded to pre-covid levels, the analysis found. Carbon Trust calculated that the CO2e footprint of clothing spending in 2020 so far is 45% lower than in 2019.

While emissions associated with the consumption of food and drink and electronics were up year-on-year, by 19% and 20% respectively, these increases were ultimately offset by reductions across the other four categories.

Given that retail sales are now above pre-pandemic levels, the Carbon Trust and Lloyds Banking Group are optimistic that there is still time to couple an accelerated low-carbon recovery with the need to help businesses recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. The organisations cited recent research from YouGov which found that more than one-third (34%) of British adults are planning to change their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint as lockdown lifts. The most popular behaviour changes were found to be limiting car travel, limiting flights and shopping at small, local businesses.

“The changes in spending were driven by a global pandemic not by choice, but our analysis of Lloyds Banking Group customer spending does demonstrate the link between the actions we take in our everyday lives and the impact these have on the level of carbon emissions, a major cause of climate change,” The Carbon Trust’s director Myles McCarthy said.

“We have an opportunity to build on this increased awareness and create the low-carbon businesses and infrastructure to help people reduce their impact on the environment.”

Green recovery

While emissions contracted during the 2008-9 recession, they rebounded sharply, leading many to conclude that nations and businesses had wasted an opportunity to spur the low-carbon transition.

As such, policymakers and corporates are currently facing much pressure to ensure that their plans for recovering from the current recession, caused by lockdown requirements and investor uncertainty, create economies which are compatible with long-term climate targets.

A recent survey of more than 2,000 UK voters, in which all major political preferences were accounted for, found that 69% would take a Covid-19 recovery package centred around high-carbon industries and infrastructure as a “sign that the government has got the wrong priorities” and “does not listen to ordinary people”.

A similar poll of members of the UK's Climate Assembly, who were chosen to resemble the national population in terms of both social demographics and views on environmental issues, found that 79% want the UK’s recovery package to be net-zero aligned.

The general consensus is that, despite strong efforts from communities and some businesses, government efforts are not yet ambitious or joined-up enough to be fully ‘green’. Only a small proportion of the UK’s £160bn recovery package has been directly set aside for low-carbon sectors, including £3bn for energy efficiency and £2bn for walking and cycling, while £14bn has been allocated to roads, for example. The Treasury has also faced criticism for working with the Bank of England to provide unconditional billion-pound bailouts for carbon-intensive companies and sectors.

Nonetheless, a string of further funding and policy changes is due to be confirmed in the autumn. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is expected to be accompanied by the Energy White Paper, Heat Strategy, National Infrastructure Strategy and Buildings Strategy. The Department for Transport (DfT) is also hoping to publish its decarbonisation roadmaps by the end of the calendar year.

Sarah George



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