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UK CO2 emissions drop sixth consecutive year in 2018 – Carbon Brief analysis

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United Kingdom (UK) fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2018, the longest series of continuous reductions on record. The estimated 1.5 percent reduction was once again driven by falling coal use, down 16 percent compared to a year earlier, whereas oil and gas use were largely unchanged according to a new analysis by Carbon Brief.

UK CO2 emissions 1850-2018, millions of tonnes (blue area) and the level in 2018 (yellow line). Source: BEIS, Carbon Brief analysis, and the World Resources Institute CAIT data explorer. The CAIT data has been adjusted because it excludes emissions from land use and forestry. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts (graphic courtesy Carbon Brief).

UK CO2 emissions 1850-2018, millions of tonnes (blue area) and the level in 2018 (yellow line). Source: BEIS, Carbon Brief analysis, and the World Resources Institute CAIT data explorer. The CAIT data has been adjusted because it excludes emissions from land use and forestry. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts (graphic courtesy Carbon Brief).

The UK’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were an estimated 361 million tonnes (MtCO2) in 2018, some 39 percent below 1990. The UK’s CO2 emissions have now been falling for six consecutive years, the longest run of reductions in records going back to 1850.

Outside years with general strikes, this would be the lowest since 1888, when the first-ever Football League match was played and Tower Bridge was being built in London. There were particularly large falls in 2014 (8.7 percent) and 2016 (5.9 percent). , with 2018 seeing a more modest according to Carbon Brief’s analysis.

However, there are signs the recent run of reductions could be coming to an end, with 2018 seeing the smallest fall in the six-year series, 1.5 percent reduction. These findings are based on a Carbon Brief analysis of newly released energy use figures from the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The department will publish its own CO2 estimates on March 28, 2019.

Coal-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions now make up just 7 percent of the UK total. This small share will shrink even further as coal-fired power stations continue to close ahead of a 2025 phaseout deadline. Only 5 percent of UK electricity generation in 2018 was from coal, a record low according to a new Carbon Brief analysis.

Nonetheless, since 1990, the UK has cut its emissions faster than any other major economy in the world, even as its gross domestic product (GDP) has continued to grow. Recent Carbon Brief analysis suggests reduced energy demand and a shift to cleaner sources of electricity explain most of the CO2 reductions since 1990.

Per-capita emissions in the UK fell to 5.4tCO2 in 2018, the lowest since 1858, when the population was less than half its current level. On this measure, the UK now ranks alongside France and well below China (around 7tCO2 per capita), but roughly three times the level in India (1.8tCO2).

Meanwhile, emissions from oil increased by 4 percent (6MtCO2), while CO2 from gas was unchanged. The remainder is made up of changes in emissions from other fuels, such as non-renewable wastes, as well as CO2 from non-fuel sources, such as cement production.

Notably, coal CO2 emissions now make up just 7 percent of the UK total. This small share will shrink even further as coal-fired power stations continue to close ahead of a 2025 phaseout deadline. Only 5 percent of UK electricity generation in 2018 was from coal, a record low.

This means there is limited potential to continue reducing overall UK emissions if coal is the only contributor. Emissions from oil and gas will also have to be cut if the UK is to meet its legally binding carbon targets in the future.

The UK’s CO2 emissions from coal (light blue line), oil (yellow) and gas (dark blue) in 2013 (left) and 2018 (right), in millions of tonnes of CO2. Overall emissions fell continuously during this six-year period. Figures for intermediate years not shown. Source: BEIS and Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts (graphic courtesy Carbon Brief).

The UK’s CO2 emissions from coal (light blue line), oil (yellow) and gas (dark blue) in 2013 (left) and 2018 (right), in millions of tonnes of CO2. Overall emissions fell continuously during this six-year period. Figures for intermediate years not shown. Source: BEIS and Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts (graphic courtesy Carbon Brief).

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