UK carbon emissions fall by 5.8% in 2016, analysis finds

A huge decline in coal use saw national carbon emissions in the UK fall by 5.8% in 2016, reaching its lowest recorded levels in almost 100 years, analysts have claimed.

Analysis conducted by Carbon Brief on Department of Energy, Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) energy use figures revealed that a 50% fall in emissions derived from coal use helped the UK reduce emissions by 5.8% in 2016.

This decline, which is likely to be confirmed by BEIS when publishes its emissions estimates on 30 March, would place the UK’s emissions levels at 36% below 1990 levels – the lowest it’s been since the 1920s, Carbon Brief notes.

Demand for coal was halved to 18m tonnes in 2016, the largest recorded drop in percentage terms – exceeding years during mining strikes (1921, 1926 and 1984). Carbon Brief predicts that coal use has fallen by 74% in the last 10 years.

The fall for call was supplemented by cheaper gas prices and higher carbon tax brackets, which doubled to £18 per tonne of carbon in 2015. Cheaper gas has seen emissions from that area rise by 12.5% as a result, and emissions from oil also increased by 1.6%. Carbon Brief attributes this rise to low oil prices and more vehicle mileage in the UK.

Sector concerns

Commenting on the findings, WWF’s head of climate and energy Gareth Redmond-King said: “Most of this fall has come thanks to a big reduction in the use of coal to generate electricity, which demonstrates how crucial it is that the UK Government sticks to its pledge to phase out coal. However, further investment in green technologies is needed to reduce our emissions further.

“Indeed, emissions are falling far slower in the rest of the economy, in particular buildings and transport, and it is therefore vital that the Government stops delaying and publishes a strong emissions reduction to show how all sectors will play their part and secure the benefits of moving to a low carbon economy.”

The predicted 36% reduction against the 1990 baseline level puts the UK on course to meet the third carbon budget, which calls for a 35% reduction in a basket of six greenhouse gas emissions by 2018-2022. However, Carbon Brief noted that the measurement mechanics for carbon budgets are much more complex, but did estimate that UK greenhouse gas emissions were roughly 46% below baseline levels. The analysts did note that this figure is “much more uncertain than the CO2-only figures”.

Redmond-King’s comments on transport and heat echo the warnings of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which called for stronger Government action in the areas of heating, transport and low-carbon generation in order to hit the fifth carbon budget goal of a 57% reduction between 2028 and 2032.

Last month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published final readings for emissions reductions in 2015. In total, basket emissions fell by 3.8% in 2015 to 495.7m tonnes, highlighting slight changes in the readings from the provisional estimates published in March 2016.

Matt Mace

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