UK records biggest annual rise in emissions

The UK's emissions have rebounded following years of recorded reductions after the ending of lockdown and uptake in transport delivered almost a 5% increase in year-on-year emissions in 2021.

UK records biggest annual rise in emissions

Emissions are still down by around 5% on 2019 levels

Figures from the Government have revealed that emissions in 2021 increased by 4.7% compared to 2020 levels. This increase, the largest recorded since the UK started tracking against a 1990 baseline, has been attributed to the lifting of pandemic restrictions such as lockdowns.

The retaliatory increase in emissions comes after the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic delivered an estimated 10.7% reduction in carbon emissions in 2020, with total greenhouse gas emissions almost 50% lower than they were in 1990, the baseline year for the UK’s net-zero target.

The data shows that emissions reductions were driven by the impacts of the pandemic and subsequent national lockdowns. With road transport and business activity levels falling sharply, carbon emissions from transport were 19.6% lower, accounting for over half of the overall fall from 2019. Additionally, emissions from the business sector fell by 8.7%. With more people forced to work from home, carbon emissions from the residential sector increased by 1.8%.

As such, the UK’s emissions are still around 5% lower than they were in 2019. The near-5% increase in emissions is still lower than the 5.5% global average increase recorded by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In its 2021 Global Energy Review, the Agency reveals that global energy demand will grow by 4.6% this calendar year, more than offsetting the 4% contraction felt during 2020

Separate research from the body warns that, unless green recovery plans are scaled up and high-carbon investments reduced, global emissions are likely to climb to record levels by 2023 and continue to rise in the years thereafter. The emissions increase will be 800 million tonnes lower than if no green recovery efforts were enacted, but, nonetheless, the world will remain off-track to deliver the Paris Agreement or net-zero by 2050.

The UN’s emissions gap report revealed that the world is likely to be more than 3.2C warmer than in pre-industrial times by 2100 in a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. This is beyond the boundaries of the Paris Agreement and would result in wide-reaching negative impacts for communities, biodiversity and economies. But the UN ultimately concluded that the Paris Achievement could be delivered with a coordinated and ambitious global approach to the green recovery.

Matt Mace

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