The UK’s CO2 emissions fell by 2.9% in 2019, according to Carbon Brief analysis. This brings the total reduction to 29% over the past decade since 2010, even as the economy grew by a fifth.
Another 29% reduction in coal use last year was the driving force behind the decline in UK emissions in 2019, with oil and gas use largely unchanged. Carbon emissions from coal have fallen by 80% over the past decade, while those from gas are down 20% and oil by just 6%.
The 2.9% fall in 2019 marks a seventh consecutive year of carbon cuts for the UK, the longest series on record. It also means UK carbon emissions in 2019 fell to levels last seen in 1888.
The analysis comes as the UK – and the world – enter what needs to be a “decade of action” in the 2020s, if global goals to limit rising temperatures are to be met. Ahead of the COP26 UN climate summit this November, countries are expected to submit enhanced pledges to tackle emissions.
But UK government projections show the country will miss its legally binding carbon targets later this decade. To meet the UK’s carbon budgets, CO2 emissions would need to fall by another 31% by 2030, whereas government projections expect just a 10% cut, based on current policies.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which is the UK government’s official climate advisory body, has also said the UK’s targets over the next decade are “likely” to be insufficient, given the increased goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
Update 26 March 2020: UK government figures published today confirm Carbon Brief’s earlier analysis, showing that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were 45% below 1990 levels. The figures suggest CO2 emissions fell by 3.9% in 2019, slightly more than the 2.9% Carbon Brief estimate.
Carbon Brief’s provisional estimates suggest that the UK’s CO2 emissions fell by another 2.9% in 2019, once again driven primarily by falling coal use, as shown in the table, below.Annual change in UK CO2 emissions in 2019 and over the past decade
|Change in CO2||Coal||Oil||Gas||Total|
The bulk of the reduction in coal use last year came from the power sector, which accounted for 93% of the overall fall in demand for the fuel in 2019. The remainder was from industry.
Coal generation fell by close to 60% and accounted for just 2% of UK electricity last year – less than solar. Fossil fuels collectively accounted for a record-low 43% of the total, according to Carbon Brief analysis published at the start of January. Some 54% of electricity generation in the UK is now from low-carbon sources, including 37% from renewables and 20% from wind alone.
There were 83 days in 2019 when the UK went without coal power, including a record 18-day stretch in May. Almost all of the UK’s remaining coal power plants have announced plans to close over the next 12 months, leaving just three operating ahead of the 2024 government deadline.
Carbon Brief’s emissions analysis shows that CO2 from burning gas remained virtually unchanged during 2019. The fuel is now the single-largest contributor to UK emissions, ahead of oil.
Gas demand for electricity generation, as well as demand to heat homes and businesses, were relatively flat, with 2019 seeing similar temperatures to those in 2018. (Both years were around 0.5C above the long-term average for 1981-2010.)
Oil demand and emissions fell by nearly 1% in 2019, Carbon Brief’s analysis suggests. This is despite rising road traffic, up 0.8% in the year to September 2019, according to separate government figures published in December.
THREAD— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) September 5, 2019
Battery electric vehicles have just recorded an absolutely stunning increase in their share of the UK market, which has tripled in two months to 3.4%, after 3+ yrs below 1%
HT @colinmckerrache for flagging and @SMMT for data pic.twitter.com/OZkXGqL5Qf
Meanwhile, a broader global trend towards heavier vehicles, such as SUVs, means that the average CO2 emissions per mile for new UK cars has been increasing for three years. Notably, the relative mix of traffic from private cars, vans and trucks is also shifting, as discussed below.
Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that the UK’s CO2 emissions have fallen by 29% over the past decade since 2010, the year when the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government took office. At the same time, the UK’s economic output has risen by 18%, as the chart below shows.