Emissions of the basket of six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol totalled 623.8 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent in 2008 – down from 636.6 million tonnes in 2007, according to provisional figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Joan Ruddock, energy and climate change minister, said of the figures published last Thursday, March 26: “Once again emissions in the UK are down. It’s clear that our policies will achieve more than what’s required under Kyoto, but we have much more to do at home to maintain our leadership globally.”

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for about 85% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2007, the latest year for which final results are available.

Provisional figures show UK net emissions of CO2 at 531.8 million tones – also two per cent lower than the 2007 number, which was 542.6 million tonnes.

The fall is the result of fuel switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation, together with lower fossil fuel consumption by industry and road transport, the DECC said.

But environmental group Greenpeace was scornful of the figures.

Robin Oakley, head of climate and energy, said: “The only reason our emissions have dropped is because we’re using more gas and less coal to generate power.

“So it beggars belief that the government is even thinking of consenting a new fleet of coal-fired power station just as we need to be slashing our emissions further.

“With a big decision approaching on the proposed (a replacement coal power) plant at Kingsnorth in Kent we’ll soon know just how committed ministers really are to fighting climate change.”

He added: “Overall emissions in the UK have actually risen under Labour.

Until last year they had been rising steadily because of increased coal burning. It’s been so bad that Government has had to abandon its own 2010 target for CO2 cuts because it knows it has failed to do enough to meet it.”

The basket of gases also includes methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride.

They are all weighted by their global warming potential (GWP), which is defined as their warming influence relative to that of carbon dioxide.

The final estimates of UK greenhouse gas emissions for 2008 will be published early next year (2010) but the DECC says most provisional figures are within a per cent of the final figure.

The UK has both international and domestic targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including those under the Kyoto Protocol, a domestic CO2 goal and targets outlined in the UK Climate Change Act.

Ms Ruddock said: “Our Climate Change Act is a world first, it will bind this and future governments to increasingly ambitious carbon budgets, the first three of which will be set out alongside the budget next month. Everyone will have a part to play, from government and businesses down to each of us in our homes.”

Carbon dioxide equivalent is a measure for describing how much global warming a greenhouse gas may cause using the equivalent amount or concentration of carbon dioxide.

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie