UK greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2012 - DECC
- 28 Mar 2013, 12:46
- Christian Hunt
We already know that
coal power overtook gas last year to become the biggest single
source of UK electricity in 2012. Now we know what the consequences
official figures out today show the UK's greenhouse gas
emissions rose 3.5 per cent in 2012, reversing a longer downward
(All graphs taken from DECC's
The Department of Energy and Climate Change
preliminary assessment suggests the 3.5 per
cent rise is due "primarily" to a switch from gas to coal for power
Coal produced 42.8 per cent of the UK's
electricity in 2012 - a startling rise since 2011, when coal
30 per cent.
In 2011, gas power produced 40 per cent of UK
electricity - so in effect, gas and coal swapped places in the
space of a year. Generating electricity using gas
produces about half the carbon emissions of using coal.
Emissions of carbon dioxide - the primary gas causing
climate change - rose from the power sector rose around 5.5%
between 2011 and 2012, the figures show. Emissions from transport
fell by 0.8 per cent, while residential carbon dioxide emissions
rose by 12 per cent. Overall, carbon dioxide emissions specifically
rose by around 4.4 per cent between 2011 and 2012.
Here are the main points from DECC's
In 2012, UK emissions of the
basket of six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol were
provisionally estimated to be 571.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide
equivalent. This was 3.5 per cent higher than the 2011 figure of
552.6 million tonnes.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for
about 83 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, the
latest year for which final results are available. In 2012, UK net
emissions of carbon dioxide were provisionally estimated to be
479.1 million tonnes (Mt). This was 4.5 per cent higher than the
2011 figure of 458.6 Mt.
Between 2011 and 2012, there were increases in CO2 emissions from
most of the main sectors. The provisional estimates show increases
in emissions of 5.5 per cent (9.9 Mt) from the energy supply
sector, 11.8 per cent (7.8 Mt) from the residential sector, and 4.8
per cent (3.6 Mt) from the business sector. Emissions from the
transport sector were down by 1.2 per cent (1.4 Mt) from 2011. All
these sectoral breakdowns are based on the source of the emissions,
as opposed to where the enduser activity occurred.
Emissions related to electricity generation are therefore
attributed to power stations, the source of these emissions, rather
than homes and businesses where electricity is used.
The increase in CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2012 resulted
primarily from lower use of gas and greater use of coal for
electricity generation at power stations, combined with an increase
in residential gas use.
The power sector is mostly responsible for the
jump in emissions, the department says:
The increase in
emissions from this sector since 2010 can almost entirely be
attributed to power stations. Although demand for electricity was
broadly unchanged, there was a substantial change in the fuel mix
used at power stations for electricity generation, with
significantly less gas and significantly more coal being
Some have disagreed with the way DECC accounts
emissions in the past, suggesting that one reason
for falling emissions is the 'offshoring' of emissions as
manufacturing is shifted to other countries. But official
statistics have described a decline in emissions over the past
decade, with increased use of gas for power instrumental in the
trend. DECC says:
"[I]t is likely that the
majority of the saving since 1990 will have been due to fuel
switching from coal to gas for electricity generation".
The new figures may prove embarrassing: a return
to coal power conflicts somewhat with the government's promise to
be the "
A temporary blip?
There are good reasons to believe that this
increase in emissions may be temporary.
Coal use is up because coal is cheap. Global
prices have dipped as the US turns to indigenous shale gas. But UK
coal plants' days are numbered.
A policy called the
EU Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD)
has limited the number of hours dirtier coal plants can
operate before they must close. With coal so cheap, plants which
are set to close after 20,000 hours are currently burning through
this allowance faster. This would mean they consume more coal now
but close earlier.
Energy secretary Ed Davey
has ruled out the idea of building new coal
plants. A few days ago, he told Business
"One of the problems at
the moment is that because of low gas prices in the US, they've
been sending their coal to other markets, so coal prices have gone
down [and] we're burning a lot of coal. That is the least green
thing imaginable. If anything proves the case for reforming the
electricity market, that does."
Business Green asked:
You mentioned coal
plants as the "least green thing". So why is DECC's director of
energy strategy and futures being quoted saying government is
looking at keeping coal plants going to bridge a potential
generation capacity gap?
To which Davey replied:
"That's simply not true.
Absolutely not true. That isn't going to happen."
The trend in increased coal use may be
short-lived - and could be reversed as coal plants close - a large
plant in Didcot
closed this month. Nonetheless, these
statistics are a salient reminder that cutting greenhouse gas
emissions and returning to coal power are basically