UK Carbon Emissions, GDP and Emissions Intensity


UK Carbon Emissions

Figure 1

Dr Anne Owen and Professor John Barratt calculate the UK’s carbon footprint for the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) every year. The latest figure is for 2016 : There is a lag because of data collection and modelling issues. They have an interesting article on Carbon Brief, The UK’s carbon footprint is at its lowest level for 20 years .Their results, give CO2 emissions based on our consumption in the UK. These include the CO2 embodied in imports, unlike the CO2 emission lauded by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Services (BEIS). For example in December last year, a press release from BEIS, UK deepens climate change partnership with Pacific Islands, includes:

Throughout COP24, the UK cemented its position as a global leader in tackling climate change and achieved:

  • since 1990 the UK economy has grown by 71 per cent while emissions have fallen by 43 per cent – the fastest progress on decarbonisation in the G20 since 2000

Emissions in imports are not included in this measure, so when a steel works is closed in the UK, emissions fall – according to the method of accounting for emissions used b y BEIS. They ignore the CO2 emitted from the production of foreign steel imported to fill the gap.

However, the title in the Carbon Brief article  ( “The UK’s carbon footprint is at its lowest for 20 years”) gives an impression that is too optimistic. The ‘DEFRA’ emissions did fall 5.9%  between 2015 and 2016 – as shown on the graph above. This also shows that the fall from 2015 – 2016 may be statistical noise and not typical – the graph goes up as well as down in the preceeding years.  In order to smooth the results, I have grouped the results from DEFRA’s tables into five year bands as the following table shows:

The percentages in this table are the % changes over 5 years divided by 5

The CO2 emissions increase over the first two periods, falling at -3.9%  in the 5 years following the 2007 financial crisis and falling more slowly (-0.7%) in the next 5-year band to 2016.

The table also shows GDP rising  a just-more-than-modest rate in the first two five-year bands, falling to nearly zero in the next and recovering to modest growth in the years to 2016.

The last column is the carbon intensity – the amount of CO2 emitted for every unit of production. e.g. Mike Berners -Lee estimates that 636 kilograms of CO2 are produced for every £1000 spent on a car. ( For more explanation see Climate destruction 1: Economic Growth on BrusselsBlog.)

AN important point is this: If there were no economic growth, a fall in carbon emissions would be the same as a fall in emissions intensity but for every percentage  that growth increases CO2 emissions any fall in emissions is reduced by 1%.

To keep world emissions within  the remaining carbon budget so that global temperatures do not rise more than 1.5C, each year they should fall at 3.9% of the emissions in 2017.  In the past 20 years in the UK, this target was achived in only one 5-year band  – the one where GDP was tiny. This band had a better than average improvement in emissions intensity, i.e.the goods that were produced caused somewhat fewer CO2 emissions.

The more shaming news is that the emissions from UK inhabitants are well above the world average: In 2016, these were 9.3 tonnes of CO2 compared with a world average of 5.5 tonnes.

Shame on us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.