UK carbon emissions fall nearly 11% in pandemic year, official figures show

Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent
·3-min read

The UK’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by more than a 10th last year, as lockdown saw roads empty and businesses close, official figures suggest.

Provisional figures from the Business Department (Beis) show that overall greenhouse gases fell 8.9% in 2020 compared to 2019 and carbon dioxide, which makes up the lion’s share of emissions, was down 10.7% year-on-year.

The large fall in 2020 was primarily down to a major reduction in the use of road transport and falls in business activity during the nationwide lockdowns to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Carbon dioxide pollution from transport fell by nearly a fifth (19.6%) in 2020, the figures show, while business sector emissions were down 8.7% on the previous year.

But at the same time emissions from the residential sector rose slightly, by just under 2%, as people stayed home more, in many cases working from home.

The figures also show that carbon dioxide emissions from the energy supply sector fell by almost 12% due to lower demand in the pandemic and continued falls in using fossil fuels to generate electricity in power stations.

Renewables outstripped fossil fuels for electricity generation for the first time in 2020, data from Beis show, largely driven by high levels of wind power, thanks to windy conditions and more offshore wind farms coming online.

Renewable power sources accounted for 42.9% of generation in 2020, compared to 38.5% from fossil fuels, mostly gas.

Overall low carbon sources, which also include nuclear, generated 59% of the mix.

Industry body RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said the figures showed renewables were “keeping this country reliably powered up during the most challenging period any of us have faced for many decades”.

And she said: “Another key set of figures published today shows that the UK’s offshore wind industry now supports over 26,000 jobs, mainly in coastal areas which need new opportunities.

“This will rise to over 69,000 over the next five years as our domestic supply chain grows rapidly.

“The offshore wind industry is attracting over £60 billion in private investment in this five-year period, helping to kickstart the Prime Minister’s green economic recovery and getting us closer towards net zero emissions on time.”

Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr warned that despite the falls in greenhouse gas emissions due to the pandemic, the UK was a long way from the scale of cuts necessary to meet climate goals.

He said: “Of course successive lockdowns have resulted in a fall in emissions but that doesn’t mean we’ve made progress.

“Pandemics are a lousy way to tackle the climate crisis and we’re still a long way from the scale of emissions cuts necessary to meet our climate commitments.

“It’s important the Government does not celebrate this, instead it must ramp up action to genuinely slash emissions in a meaningful way from every sector of society,” he said.

The UK has a legal target to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050 – a 100% reduction on 1990 levels – by reducing emissions as much as possible and taking steps such as planting trees to offset any remaining pollution.