Transport becomes nation’s biggest polluter as UK emissions drop 5%

New figures have revealed that the UK's emissions fell by 5% in 2016, but campaigners have called for stronger action in the transport sector where emissions continued to steadily rise.

National greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions dropped to 467.9 million tonnes of carbon equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2016 from 492.4 MtCO2e the previous year, according to official Government statistics.

The progress was attributed mainly to a 16% fall in the energy supply sector emissions, driven by a decline in coal demand and increased use of gas. In addition, the business sector managed a reduction of 5.4% in 2016, with emissions from iron and steel production falling due to the closure of the Redcar steelworks site in September 2015.

UK emissions were 41% down on 1990 levels. The country’s legally binding Climate Change Act requires national emissions to fall 80% by 2050.

‘Crawling in the slow lane’

The latest figures place the UK well on track to meet its second carbon budget for 2013-17. But there are major concerns over the UK’s ability to meet its fourth and fifth budgets, the latter of which runs from 2028-2032.

If this is to happen, a big improvement will be needed in the transport sector, which overtook the power industry as the most emitting sector in 2016. Transport saw its emissions rise by 2% for the second year in a row, with the main source of emissions deriving from the use of petrol and diesel.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Simon Bullock stressed that the transport sector needed to start playing a more prominent role in the UK’s low-carbon transition.

“Transport Secretary Chris Grayling must play catch-up fast – his department can’t continue to crawl along in the slow lane when it comes to tackling climate change,” Bullock said.

“And if we want to play our part in international efforts to prevent global warming we must do even more, raising our ambition to match the Paris Agreement and taking immediate measures such as allowing communities to build onshore wind and solar and ensuring all new homes are zero-carbon.”

Waste of energy

Ministers will be hopeful of a turnaround in transport emissions in 2017. Last summer, the Government announced proposals to ban all new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040. Diesel sales continued to decline towards the end of last year amid new taxes and pollution fears.  

Another area for concern is the waste management sector, where emissions rose in 2016 by 5% due to increased emissions from landfill waste. China’s ban on the import of plastic and mixed paper waste at the start of 2018 has raised fears that the UK will be plagued by mountains of waste in the upcoming months and years.

George Ogleby

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