UK carbon emissions fall 28% in a decade, analysis shows

Emissions have fallen in the UK in part due to a switch to renewables Credit: John Giles/PA

UK carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 28% in the past decade, even as the economy has grown by a fifth, analysis suggests.

An assessment by climate and energy website Carbon Brief found that the UK’s emissions of the key greenhouse gas fell by 2.9% in 2019, putting pollution at its lowest level since 1888 – excluding years with general strikes.

The analysis, which comes ahead of official Government estimates, suggests that the UK’s carbon emissions were 354 million tonnes last year, a reduction of 28% since 2010.

At the same time, economic output (GDP) has risen by 18%, the data show.

Falling coal use for power has seen emissions from the fossil fuel tumble, down 28% in the past year alone, compared with a reduction in carbon dioxide from gas and oil of less than 1% each.

Over the past decade, emissions from coal are down 80%, those from gas have fallen 20% and carbon dioxide from oil is down 6%.

The biggest contributor to falling emissions over the decade has been improvement in energy intensity – the amount of energy needed for each unit of economic output – which reflects how energy efficiency has improved.

The second-largest contributor has been a shift towards cleaner fuels, largely renewable electricity sources such as wind and solar.

Between them, these factors have more than offset the impact of a rising population and growing GDP, Carbon Brief said.

Emissions in the UK have fallen every year for the past seven years – which marks the longest run of ongoing reductions on record and bringing carbon emissions down to a level last seen in the 19th century, the analysis shows.

Responding to the analysis, Energy UK’s interim chief executive Audrey Gallacher said: “That the UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by almost a third over the last decade, to the lowest level since 1888, shows how quickly the energy sector has been moving to low-carbon generation – and as this analysis shows, importantly this transition has been partnered by economic growth.”

But she said that with less than 30 years to go to meet the legally binding target to reduce the UK’s emissions to net zero by 2050, the transformation needed to go “further and faster than this” and in areas such as heating and transport.

“That’s why the forthcoming Budget and energy white paper need to show widespread ambition and action across these areas and unleash much more of the innovation and investment that has delivered these results over the last decade.”