Renewables help drive dramatic fall in UK emissions

The UK’s continuing shift to renewables and falling demand for energy across homes and industry have seen cuts in carbon emissions of nearly two-fifths since 1990, faster than any other major developed country according to new research.

The analysis by Carbon Brief found that emissions would have been twice what they are today if these underlying factors had not changed and emissions from the electricity sector would have been nearly four times higher.

The largest driver in the 38% fall in emissions has been a cleaner electricity mix based on renewables and gas instead of coal. This was responsible for 36% of the emissions reduction in 2017, the latest full year for which full emissions data is available.

The next largest factor is reduced fuel consumption by business and industry, responsible for about 31% of the emissions reduction in 2017.

Reduced electricity use – mostly in the industrial and residential sectors – was responsible for 18% of the emissions reductions. Changes in transport emissions from fewer miles driven per capita and more efficient vehicles accounted for around 7%.

Changing generation mix

Carbon Brief said that CO2 emissions peaked in the year 1973 and have declined by around 38% since 1990.

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 has fallen dramatically since 1990, down from 67% of total generation to only 5% today.

Oil used for electricity generation has also declined, down from 11% of generation in 1990 to less than 1% today. These have largely been replaced by gas, wind and bioenergy.

Focus needed on more difficult areas

Zeke Hausfather of Carbon Brief said: “While it is useful to understand the factors behind CO2 reductions to date, additional government policy will need to play a role in driving the deep reductions required to help avoid potentially dangerous warming.

“The UK’s emission reductions to date have been concentrated in electricity and industrial sectors, while future deep decarbonisation will require large reductions in emissions in more difficult areas, such as transport and farming.”

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