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Morning view of Cotswold farmland with hoar frost
Credit: Andrew Roland/Shutterstock
UK EMISSIONS
15 January 2015 14:15

UK emissions fall to 25 year low as a surge in coal use ends

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

01.15.15
Simon Evans

Simon Evans

15.01.2015 | 2:15pm
UK emissionsUK emissions fall to 25 year low as a surge in coal use ends

There was a 10 per cent reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions in the twelve months to October 2014 compared to the previous year, new government data shows.

The majority of the 49 million tonne reduction came from reduced energy emissions as a three year surge in UK coal use  came to an end, with  renewables and gas picking up the slack in power supplies.

The reduction saw total UK carbon dioxide emissions fall to their lowest level in the past quarter-century, to 28 per cent below 1990 levels (the dark grey line on the chart below).

UK carbon dioxide emissions since 1990. Graph by Carbon Brief using emissions data from the  Department for Energy and Climate Change

Carbon dioxide emissions had been on a steady downwards trajectory since 1990, the base year for carbon reduction targets under the UN’s Kyoto Protocol and the UK’s legally binding Climate Change Act.

But a cold winter in 2010 and cheap coal from 2011 caused brief spikes in UK emissions. These factors were reversed in the latest data with a fall in coal emissions and mild weather being the major causes of the 10 per cent year on year reduction seen up to October 2014.

Emissions in the twelve months to October 2014 were 427 million tonnes, 10 per cent down on a year earlier and 28 per cent below 1990 levels.

The year on year reduction to October of amounted to 49 million tonnes. The components of this reduction are shown in the chart below, with 29 million tonnes (60 per cent) coming from the energy sector where coal use fell by nearly a quarter.

Another 15 million tonne reduction (30 per cent of the total) came from the residential sector, as mild temperatures reduced demand for home heating. A fall of five million tonnes (nine per cent of the total) from businesses accounted for most of the remainder.

Share of the 49 million tonne reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions between the twelve months to October 2014 and a year earlier. Graph by Carbon Brief using emissions data from the Department for Energy and Climate Change

The latest UK emissions data show what a big impact coal use has on carbon dioxide emissions. That’s why recent research found 80 per cent of the world’s coal reserves must remain in the ground if we’re to avoid dangerous climate change.

Main image: Morning view of Cotswold farmland with hoar frost.
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