UK tops G20 on carbon reduction levels

Britain remains a "world-leader" on climate action, with new figures from the professional services firm PwC ranking the country the highest of the G20 group of nations when it comes to annual average reductions in carbon intensity over the past 15 years.

According to PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI), from 2000-2015, the UK reduced its overall carbon intensity at an average rate of -3.5% per year, beating France (-2.6%) and China and the US (-2.4%) as well as the EU countries (-2.3%).

Moreover, several nationwide forward-looking commitments to carbon reduction, including the recently agreed Fifth Carbon Budget and Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to ratify the Paris Agreement, have reinforced the UK’s positive contributions to help decarbonise the global economy, according to the report. 

Sustainability and climate change director at PwC Jonathan Grant said: “The decarbonisation of the UK’s economy is well-established now, and underlined by recent government announcements on adopting the Fifth Carbon Budget, the approval of the Hinkley C nuclear power project and confirmation of the Government’s intent to ratify the Paris Agreement.”

The UK ranks second in the G20 group when it comes to the change in carbon intensity between 2014-2015, having seen a 6% national reduction – beating the US (-4.7%) and South Africa (-4.5%), but being topped by China, which acheived a 6.4% reduction in carbon intensity.

‘Promising news’

The UK’s decrease in carbon intensity is largely the result of the EU’s Large Combustion Plant directive and a UK policy to close all coal-fired power plants by 2025. Coal now makes up around 12.2% of the UK energy mix, while renewable energy generation has now reached 9.1% of the energy mix. Two years ago, coal’s share of the energy mix was more than three times that of renewables.

Commenting on the report, Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “This analysis shows once again that economic growth and carbon emissions are not inextricably linked. Over the last year the global economy has grown by about 2.5%, but in major economies at least, that’s exceeded by the rate of decarbonisation,” he said.

“The success has largely come from reducing use of coal, especially in China which has taken extraordinary steps this year to clean up its act and is now erecting two wind turbines every hour. And that is very significant, because climate science is unequivocal in showing that switching away from coal is an essential first step in keeping climate change within ‘safe’ limits.

“So, in the week in which the Paris Agreement comes into force, this is very promising news in showing that the dominant paradigm of economic growth is swiftly changing, which makes the Paris targets look more achievable.”

Climate economist at PwC Lit Ping Low added: “Sustaining its high decarbonisation rate is a crucial part of the UK’s climate strategy, however the progress made in other countries are also exciting as they signal new waves of opportunities for the UK in terms of exports of low carbon technologies and services.

“For example, low-carbon vehicles make up of 60% of UK’s exports on low carbon goods and services, and 10% of its total vehicle exports in 2014. This is a sector set to grow rapidly around the world and the UK is well positioned to capitalise on this opportunity.”

This story follows last year’s LCEI announcement that saw the UK break records for national low-carbon growth and top the G20 Low Carbon Economy Index, after a 10.9% decline in emissions from energy use.

Alex Baldwin

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