“Carbon emissions down nearly two-fifths since 1990.” – or not.


A recent article by Carbon Brief  Analysis: Why the UK’s CO2 emissions have fallen 38% since 1990 has generated headlines:

Energy Voice: Carbon emissions down nearly two-fifths since 1990
Business Green:  UK carbon emissions down 38 per cent since 1990
Engineering and Tech: UK’s carbon emissions dropped by 30 per cent since 1990

However, the main thust of the article is on production emissions which do not include the emmisions caused by UK’s imports. Production emissions are the ressponsibility of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Consumption emissions, which include the embodied emissions in imports are the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

In concentrating on the BEIS version of emissions, the overall impression of the Carbon Brief article may be too flattering to us in the UK. Let’s look at the story using DEFRA’s statistics:

Defra has produced statistics on the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gasses for the years 1997 to 2015. In 1997 they were 860 MtCO2e, rose to 1042 MtCO2e in 2007 and have declined to 847 MtCO2e. Over the whole period that’s a tiny decrease.

Since 2007 the decrease has averaged 20 MtCO2e per year. If the figures for 2018 come in as, say 800 MtCO2e , a continued fall of 20 MtCO2e per year will reach zero emissions in 2059 – another 40 years. In this time emissions will have been 32 GtCo2e.

UK population is 0.84% of world population so if the rest of the world had similar carbon footprints and was declining at a similar rate 3,800 GtCO2e would be emitted.

Some remaining carbon budgets were reported by Carbon Brief in Analysis: How much ‘carbon budget’ is left to limit global warming to 1.5C?

625 GtCO2 – Millar et al.
396 GtCO2 – Tokarska & Gillett
67 GtCO2 – Lowe & Bernie

Increase these a bit to become CO2e

738 GtCO2e – Millar et al.
466 GtCO2e – Tokarska & Gillett
79 GtCO2e – Lowe & Bernie

The “world equivalent to UK” emissions of 3,800 GtCO2e dwarfs all of these.

On a percapita basis, found by dividing by current world population,  the estimates of remaining carbon budget in the examples above are

97.1  tonnes CO2e – Millar et al.
61.3 tonnes CO2e – Tokarska & Gillett
10.4 tonnes CO2e – Lowe & Bernie

World emissions of 50 GTCO2e per year equate to 6.6 tonnes CO2e per person per year. At this rate the budget to limit the Earth’s warming to a temperature rise of  1.5°C is exhausted in:

14.7 years left – Millar et al.
9.2 years left – Tokarska & Gillett
1.6  years left – Lowe & Bernie

UK emissions per capita are 7.5 tonnes CO2e per year if you take BEIS figures.
But if you want to know the truth they are about 13.2 tonnes CO2e per year.
Nearly twice the world average .

It looks like Goodbye Tuvelu

Tuvalu Inaba-20


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