Expert Blog

How the UK is reducing its emissions

You know how it is. You’re sat at your computer, journeying deeper into the less visited parts of the Internet, when suddenly you come across the Government’s carbon emission statistics.

We’ve depicted them in the graph below. What they show is how the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas emissions have changed since 1990, and where those changes have come from, sector-by-sector:

You’ll notice that the overall story is a happy one. The UK’s total emissions reduced by 35.4 per cent between 1990 and the latest year for which figures are available, 2014. In terms of quantities, rather than percentages, we went from pumping out 797 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) to 514 million tonnes.

Some sectors are more responsible for this wonderful decline than others. The green line on the graph represents the industrial process sector, which has cut its emissions by an enormous 78.4 per cent. The reason? Part of the answer is cleaner technologies, but there’s also the unavoidable fact of deindustrialisation. The UK is pumping out less carbon because it’s manufacturing less.

Other top performers are the waste management and energy supply sectors. The first of these has reduced its emissions by 72.6 per cent, thanks mainly to more recycling. The second has reduced its emissions by 41.2 per cent, as it shifts away from coal and towards gas and renewables.  

But what about the sector that is of particular interest to this blog and its readers? Transport. It’s actually the sector that has reduced its emissions the least – by just 3.3 per cent, or from 122 MtCO2e to 118 MtCO2e. For all the talk about green motoring, not much has yet been achieved.

Actually, that’s not quite right. When it comes to individual vehicles, quite a lot has been achieved. They’re much cleaner and more efficient than they used to be. So what gives? Well, there are also many more vehicles on the road than there used to be. Their numbers have increased by over 10 million during the past two decades – which is going to put upwards pressure on emissions statistics, even if some of those 10 million are Toyota Priuses.

We’re mentioning this now because we could, hopefully, be reaching a tipping point. Not only are everyday cars becoming more and more efficient, as Jonathan Jones recently observed on this site. But there’s also the prospect of an electric future. Let’s see what the graph looks like in ten year’s time.

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