Post-lockdown commutes contribute to biggest annual rise in greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions rose by 4.7% in 2021, largely due to the increase in road transport as Covid-19 restrictions lifted and people returned to work.

New government figures show it’s the biggest annual rise since records began in 1990, however it appears to be a blip in an otherwise downward trend. Compared to 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year, 2021 GHG emissions are down 5.2%. Total GHG emissions were 47.3% lower than they were in 1990.

CO2 emissions from transport rose 10.0% in 2021 according to government figures, accounting for almost half of the overall increase from 2020. Power station emissions rose by 9.2% due to an increased demand for electricity.
CO2 emissions from the residential sector also increased by 5.8% due to the colder weather in 2021 compared to 2020.

Transport’s heavy footprint

Transport remains the largest emitting sector in the UK, accounting for nearly a third (31.5%) of all CO2 emissions in 2021.

Primarily due to a continual growth vehicle kilometres travelled on roads, transport carbon dioxide grew to a peak in 2007, 8.4% higher than in 1990. Since then, emissions from this sector had fallen back to around 1990 levels up until 2019, driven mainly by improvements in new car fuel efficiency.

The largest driver of the long-term fall in UK emissions has been the decrease of emissions from power stations, due to the shift in fuel use within power stations away from using coal for electricity generation towards gas and renewables.

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