UK emissions have declined from around 600m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) in 1990 to 367MtCO2 in 2017.
If underlying factors driving emissions had not changed, Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that a growing population and a constant electricity generation mix would have led to emissions increasing by around 25% compared to 1990 levels.
Instead, emissions actually fell by 38% to 367MtCO2, as shown in the black area in the pie chart below. Each coloured wedge in the figure shows one factor contributing to this decline.
As the chart shows, no single factor was responsible for more than around a third of the total reduction in the UK’s CO2. Overall, emissions in 2017 were 51% lower than they would have been without these changes
Annual UK CO2 emissions (in million tonnes) from energy in black, with estimated reductions by sector shown by coloured wedges.
The UK’s CO2 emissions peaked in the year 1973 and have declined by around 38% since 1990, faster than any other major developed country.
An analysis of the reasons behind the decline in UK CO2 since 1990 show the most significant factors include a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal, as well as falling demand for energy across homes, businesses and industry.
Declines in the UK’s CO2 have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis a decade ago. Where earlier reductions were largely negated by rising imports, the past decade has seen genuine cuts in the amount of CO2 for which the UK is responsible.
The factors driving emission reductions should continue into the future as the UK’s remaining coal use is phased out by 2025.
The big picture is that UK emissions have declined from around 600m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) in 1990 to 367MtCO2 in 2017. If underlying factors driving emissions had not changed, then a growing population and a constant electricity generation mix would have led to emissions increasing by around 25% compared to 1990 levels.
Around 20% of the UK’s CO2 emissions in 2017 came from burning coal, oil and gas to produce electricity. This is down from 34% back in 1990.
Coal’s share of this mix has fallen precipitously since 1990, down from 67% of total generation to only 5% today. Oil used for the electric generation has also declined, down from 11% of the generation in 1990 to less than 1% today. These have largely been replaced by gas, wind and bioenergy.
Annually, electricity generated in terawatt hours (TWh) per year by fuel, along with “business as usual”, where grid mix is held constant at 1990 levels and electricity use per capita remains fixed at 2005 levels, rather than declining in recent years. Usage data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) energy trends series ET 5.1.
This gives a sense of what the UK power sector would have looked like without the factors that have driven major shifts in recent years. Coal would have remained king, while gas, wind, bioenergy and solar all would have ignorantly been regarded as negligible. The nuclear generation would have remained largely the same, with somewhat higher output in recent years.
This compares the “business as usual” electricity to actual electricity usage across industrial, commercial and residential sectors. Here, the commercial sector includes businesses, as well as public administration, transport and agricultural electricity use.
Electricity-use reductions in the residential sectors reflect a combination of more efficient lightbulbs and appliances, as well as electrically-heated properties with better insulation.
Industrial sector electricity use reductions also come from a wide combination of factors, including increased manufacturing efficiency and a shift in the makeup of the UK economy away from heavy industry towards advanced manufacturing and services.
The 2007-8 financial crisis also played a role in reducing industrial electricity use, though demand has continued to decline even as the economy has recovered.
It is clear that the traditional sources of the electric generation create very large amounts of CO2 when compared to other methods, one of the cleanest and most efficient systems is nuclear fission, however the long-term problems associated with the safe disposal of spent fuel and the potential damage caused by accidents, has caused concerns.
Nuclear weapons and the possibility of the planet being wiped out also cause concern but the technology does remain high on the potential list for solving CO2 production. France produced over 75% of its electricity in 2008 using nuclear power.
Clearly to cut the emission of CO2 a move away from traditional fuel methods must be achieved. The world demand for power is growing, emerging nations and countries undergoing technology revolutions and infrastructure growth, such as China and India are driving up the need for more energy.
The easiest way to meet this demand is to use coal, oil and gas which adds more pressure to the environmental concerns. A massive move to renewable energy is underway but currently is very small in comparison.
The need for oil and gas generated electricity is not expected to decline until 2050, until then renewable energy sources will be increased to help meet the demand. But that means the climate is under great pressure to cope with CO2.
It is very difficult to cut down the use of electricity since it is the energy which allows most businesses, industries and homes to function. It is possible to cut down the wasteful use of electricity by turning off appliances when not in use – lights, TV’s, air con’s, turning off power and not using standby systems etc.
Generally, if an appliance is not actually running, then its consumption is almost zero, but if you have 50 appliances all on standby then you must be wasting some energy.
Changing to solar energy systems for things like hot water can make a large difference, especially in hot countries, where the solar energy can be used to directly heat hot water rather than relying on heaters driven by electrical power.
The big problem with renewable energy sources is that the energy, if not used immediately, has to be stored. Generally this requires batteries, which can be charged when the electricity is not needed and then used when required. Batteries are costly, bulky, take up space and also have an environmental impact, since most require metals removed from the earth by mining.
Electricity is not a primary energy or freely present in nature in any large amounts and it must be produced. Production is carried out in power stations or power plants. Usually it is generated at a power plant by electromechanical generators, driven by heat engines. The fuel used for combustion is normally coal, oil or gas.
Electricity can be generated by nuclear fission and also by other means, such as the kinetic energy of flowing water and wind. Other energy sources include solar photovoltaics and geothermal power.
The transport sector is the fastest growing contributor to climate emissions. Growth in energy usage is higher for the transport sector than any other end-user sector.
The main drivers of global transport energy growth are land transport, mostly light-duty vehicles, such as cars, as well as freight transport.
Transport’s contribution to climate change include:
long-lived carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
short-lived black carbon generated primarily by diesel vehicles.
Transport accounted for about 23% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 and 27% of end-user energy emissions with urban transport accounting for about 40% of end-user energy consumption.
Carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for over a century, with long-term warming effects.
A carbon budget is a method of restricting the rise in temperature of the earth by restricting the amount of carbon allowed to be released into the atmosphere.
It relies on all countries following the method. A carbon budget places a restriction on the total amount of greenhouse gases which can be emitted over a 5-year period. UK is the first country to set legally binding carbon budgets. It is currently on its third carbon budget. There are even policies that have been set by UK’s government on carbon budget.
What is global warming? It is the increase of the average temperature at the earths surface.
Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. Experts see the trend is accelerating: All but one of the 16 hottest years in NASA’s 134-year record have occurred since 2000. Scientists say that unless we curb global-warming emissions, average temperatures could increase up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
What causes global warming? Global warming occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2), other air pollutants and greenhouse gases collect in the atmosphere, while absorbing sunlight and solar radiation that have bounced off the earth’s surface. Normally, this radiation would escape into space, but these pollutants can last for many years and even centuries in the atmosphere, trapping the heat and causing the planet to get even hotter. That’s what’s known as the greenhouse effect.
In the US, the burning of fossil fuels to make electricity is the largest source of heat-trapping pollution, producing about two billion tons of CO2 every year. Coal-burning power plants are by far the biggest polluters. The country’s second-largest source of carbon pollution is the transportation sector, which generates about 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year.
Curbing dangerous climate change requires very deep cuts in emissions, as well as the use of alternatives to fossil fuels worldwide. The good news is that we’ve started a turnaround: CO2 emissions in the United States actually decreased from 2005 to 2014, thanks in part to new, energy-efficient technology and the use of cleaner fuels. The scientists continue to develop new ways to modernise power plants, generate cleaner electricity, and burn less gasoline while we drive. The challenge is to be sure these solutions are put to use and widely adopted.
You have probably heard the term ‘Carbon Footprint’ a lot, but do you know what it actually means?
Generally, dictionaries define a carbon footprint as “the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation or community.”
But what do you do about it?
The Importance of your Carbon Footprint and climate change is a global problem so you cannot achieve much on your own – everyone needs to take part in a proactive effort in reducing their impact on this planet. To do this we need to reduce our carbon footprint by taking our everyday carbon emissions into consideration.
Think of it like this, nearly everything you do releases some amount of carbon into the atmosphere, but how much depends on a huge number of factors. This means that you can increase or decrease your carbon footprint with your everyday choices.
Consider this, the food you buy has a carbon footprint attached to it. It requires machinery and resources to grow, harvesting, packaging and transporting to where you buy it from. When you cook your food, more energy is needed, resulting in an increased carbon footprint.