UK carbon dioxide emissions fall to same level as 1890

Article by Amanda Doyle

Fiddlers Ferry coal-fired power station in Cheshire, UK

AN ANALYSIS by climate science website Carbon Brief has shown that the UK's carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 were at the same level as they were in 1890, mainly due to a decline in the use of coal. 

Carbon Brief performed an analysis of CO2 emissions based on the newly-released energy use figures from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The analysis showed that UK CO2 emissions fell by 2.6% in 2017, due to a 19% decrease in coal use.

CO2 emissions have been dropping steadily since 2012. Most of this reduction has been due to a drop in coal use, although a drop in the use of gas also contributed earlier in the decade. While oil and petroleum use have increased slightly, this is still not enough to offset the reduction caused by the fall-off in coal use.

The analysis shows that coal use rose steadily from 65m t in 1858 and peaked at 221m t in 1956. After gradually declining, coal use was mostly steady from the late 1990s until 2014, but fell by 75% between 2014 and 2017 compared to 2013 values, and coal use in 2017 was just 15m t.

Coal now only accounts for 5.3% of the primary energy used in the UK, which is a drop from 22% of that in 1995. The UK government has pledged to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025, which will facilitate a further decline.

Carbon Brief estimates that oil and petroleum accounted for around 49% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in 2017, which is up from 37% in 2010. The increased fraction of emissions from oil use is due to the decline in coal use, but the emissions from oil have actually dropped slightly by 5m t of CO2 between 2010 and 2017.

The CO2 levels in 2017 fell to 38% below 1990 levels, bringing them in line with the level of emissions last seen in 1890. However, the national target is for CO2 emissions to fall to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, so an additional reduction of 250m t CO2 is still needed. Carbon Brief also notes that this drop in emissions doesn't take into account "imported" emissions from trade.

Carbon Brief's full analysis can be read here:

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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