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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

UK CO2 emissions fall to lowest level for almost 100 years

A huge fall in the UK’s coal use last year saw CO2 emissions decrease to their lowest levels since miners went on strike in 1926, according to analysis by Carbon Brief.

5.8% drop in UK's overall CO2 emissions ©Shutterstock
5.8% drop in UK's overall CO2 emissions ©Shutterstock

Coal emissions reached record-lows in 2014, and then again in 2015, before falling by more than 50% in 2016 – the largest drop on record.

This has been largely responsible for a 5.8% drop in overall CO2 emissions, which apart from during the miners’ strikes of 1921 and 1926, fell to the lowest level recorded since 1894.

WWF head of climate and energy, Gareth Redmond-King, said: “It’s good news that the UK’s carbon emissions continue to fall. This is great for the climate and shows that it’s possible to cut emissions while building a productive economy.

“Most of this fall has come thanks to a big reduction in the use of coal to generate electricity, which demonstrates how crucial it is that the UK government sticks to its pledge to phase out coal.”

The UK’s CO2 emissions between 1850 and 2016 are shown below:

UK’s CO2 emissions between 1850 and 2016
Source: Carbon Brief

These findings are based on Carbon Brief’s analysis of provisional UK energy use data published by the Department of Energy Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and show CO2 emissions fell to 381Mt in 2016.

They also reveal that coal use has fallen 74% since 2006 and is now 12 times below the record high seen in 1956, largely because of cheaper gas, the expansion of renewables, and the UK’s top-up carbon tax – which the chancellor is expected to make an announcement on tomorrow.

However, the fall in demand for coal, and subsequent decrease in CO2 emissions, was partially offset by a rise in oil and gas emissions, which increased by 1.6% and 12.5% last year respectively.

“Investment in green technologies is needed to reduce our emissions further. Indeed emissions are falling far slower in the rest of the economy, in particular buildings and transport,” Redmond-King continued.

“It is therefore vital that the government stops delaying and publishes a strong emissions reduction to show how all sectors will play their part and secure the benefits of moving to a low carbon economy.”

Carbon Brief’s analysis has accurately estimated year-to-year changes in emissions over the past six years, but is subject to revision.

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