UK leads G7 on 'decoupling' emissions reduction from wealth creation

The UK has been more successful than any other G7 nation at decoupling emissions growth from that of the economy over the past 25 years, according to a new report.

Factors behind the UK’s success include the switch from coal to gas for generating electricity and energy-efficiency schemes cutting demand

Factors behind the UK’s success include the switch from coal to gas for generating electricity and energy-efficiency schemes cutting demand

The report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) finds that Britons have become richer, on average, than citizens of any other G7 nation since the signing of the United Nations Climate Convention at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

Over the same period, the UK has reduced its average carbon footprint further than any other nation in the club of leading global economies.

The ECIU says that per capita emissions in the UK have decreased by an average of 1.5% per annum since 1992. Total per capita emission fell by 33% between 1992 and 2014, the latest date for which International Energy Agency statistics are available.

And this trend has continued during the past two years during which emissions have fallen while GDP has risen.

The rate of UK decarbonisation accelerated following the 2008 recession and the implementation of the Climate Change Act in the same year.

Per capita UK emissions have fallen faster than in any G7 nation except Italy, where the economy has stagnated since the turn of the Millennium.

And the UK’s emissions intensity, which is the ratio between the level of economic growth and carbon dioxide has fallen by 53.2%, faster than in any of the UK’s G7 counterparts, over the last 25 years.

Factors behind the UK’s success include the switch from coal to gas for generating electricity, energy efficiency schemes cutting demand, and a shift to a more service-based economy, according to the report.

Over the same period, since the signing of the first landmark climate change accord, the average Britons’ income has increased by 130%, faster than in any other G7 country.

The report concludes: “Britons have grown substantially richer over the 25 years of the UN climate convention, while bringing carbon emissions down markedly at home and without increasing those we import.”

The report has been released to coincide with the launch of Mission2020, a new initiative convened by Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Climate Convention, which aims to have global greenhouse gas emissions declining by 2020.

Richard Black, director of the ECIU, said the report’s findings demolished the argument that curbing climate change harms the economy.

He said: “It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm.”

“As this report shows, if you have consistent policymaking and cross-party consensus, it’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time. Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7 – but we’ve clearly been the best of the bunch.“

Lord Howard of Lympne, who as negotiated the UN Convention in 1992 as UK environment secretary, said the findings should encourage leaders to pursue emission cuts.

The former Conservative party leader said: “Before we signed the UN Climate Convention 25 years ago, Sir John Major and I were firmly of the view that reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions would not harm our economy. This analysis shows that we were right and the doom-mongers wrong.”

David Blackman

This article first appeared on edie's sister title, Utility Week


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