UK’s domestic emissions fall 3.6% as renewables take record generation share

That is according to the latest UK energy statistics and provisional GHG emissions figures, published today (26 March) by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The GHG emissions figures report accounts for all emissions generated within the UK’s borders. It states that emissions from territorial sources in 2019 stood at 435.2MtCO2e  – 3.6% less than in 2018 and 45.2% less than in 1990.

As expected, the majority of the reductions on both a year-on-year and longer-term basis can be attributed to decarbonisation of the UK’s power sector.

Between 2018 and 2019, emissions from the UK’s power sector decreased by 13.2%. The period saw the closure of two major coal-fired power plants – Cottam and Fiddlers Ferry – as their respective owners EDF and SSE prepared for the UK Government’s coal phase-out deadline. This deadline was recently moved forward from 2025 to 2024, in recognition of both the UK’s position as COP26 host and of global market challenges for fossil fuels.

2019 also saw 3GW of renewable electricity generation capacity added in the UK, BEIS’s separate energy statistics release reveals.

This, compounded by favourable generation conditions and a 1.9% year-on-year fall in energy consumption, pushed the share of electricity generation accounted for by renewables to a record 36.9%. The broad remainder of generation was accounted for by gas (40.9%) and nuclear (17.4%).

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the new data evidences “extraordinary progress”.

“With record-breaking levels of renewable electricity on the grid, we are well-placed to build on these efforts in the months and years ahead, while continuing to support the economy through the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

Spotlight on transport

As well as these significant trends in energy, the data also shows that emissions from transport fell by 2.8% on a year-on-year basis in 2019 – the second consecutive decrease of more than 2% following years of prior increases. BEIS attributes this to improving car and van efficiency and to slower growth in overall road traffic.

Nonetheless, transport remained the UK’s most-emitting sector in 2019. It accounted for 34% of territorial emissions during this time, compared to 26% from the energy supply sector, 19% from residential sources and 18% from industrial and commercial sources collectively.

BEIS and the Department for Transport (DfT) said last year that they were co-developing a plan to decarbonise “every single mode of transport” in line with the national net-zero target. At the time, the plan was slated for a 2020 publication date – but now, only time will tell whether the coronavirus pandemic will require work on this project to be put on hold.

The broader picture

While the data on emissions only covers territorial or domestic sources, Defra’s latest carbon footprint report, released last week, covers all consumption-related emissions.

In order for GHG emissions to be classed as consumption-related, they much be either directly attributable to UK households; generated by the value chain of UK-produced goods and services used by UK residents; or embedded in the value chain of imported goods and services that were ultimately used in the UK.

Unlike the BEIS report, Defra’s report only covers up to 2017. It concludes that the UK’s carbon footprint in 2017 was down 21% from the 2007 peak of 977 million tonnes and down 9% from 1997, when the current series of records began.

Sarah George

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