The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity has fallen by 2/3rds since 1990, but progress stalled during 2018, casting doubts on the government’s decarbonisation plans.
Data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Wednesday confirmed that the UK has been the most successful of the G7 countries in decarbonising its economy. Additionally, only four European countries—Sweden, France, Luxembourg and Austria—posted lower greenhouse gas emissions intensities.
However, in 2018, emissions remained stagnant at 0.23 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per million pounds of gross value add, the same level recorded in 2017.
2017’s figures were little different than the 0.24 thousand tonnes of CO2 recorded in 2016, suggesting that the UK’s progress on decarbonisation has been stagnant for two years. With the UK committed to achieving net-zero by 2050—and the Labour Party Conference backing a motion to accelerate that date to 2030—the slump will need to be reversed.
The stall in decarbonisation comes after the Conservative government has cut back energy efficiency programmes and clean energy subsidies. Starting in 2015, the government scaled back the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), which requires large energy suppliers to financially help low-income households boost their energy efficiency.
Furthermore, in April of this year, the government scrapped the feed-in tariff programme in April, sending home solar panel installations plummeting by 94%.
The decarbonisation of the economy has also been uneven, ONS figures reveal.
Much of the progress in decarbonisation is due to a dramatic, 69% reduction in emissions intensity made by the energy supply industry since 1990. Overall, the industry has seen a 56% reduction in overall emissions, as it has shuttered coal-fired power stations and embraced renewable sources of electricity.
However, other sectors are failing to keep pace, the ONS warned, echoing recent alarms from the Committee on Climate Change.
Over the same period, the emissions intensity of the agricultural industry has remained stable, and little progress was recorded in the transport and manufacturing industry.
Transport recently surpassed the energy supply sector as the UK’s most polluting, responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.