UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 44% between 1990 and 2019

In 2019 UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were nearly 44% lower than they were in 1990, according to new government figures.

The report also shows a decrease in emissions of 2.8% compared to 2018 levels, mainly due to reductions in emissions from energy supply. Power station emissions are falling as the fuel mix for electricity generation changes, in particular a big decline in the use of coal. Emissions from energy supply are now 65.5% lower than they were in 1990.

Transport’s heavy carbon footprint

Emissions from transport fell by 1.8% in 2019 compared to 2018 levels, their second year of falls having previously risen since 2013. Yet despite this, transport remains the largest emitting sector, responsible for 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Transport emissions are only 4.6% lower than in 1990, as increased road traffic has largely offset improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency.

Business sector emissions

Between 2018 and 2019 there was also 3% decrease in emissions from the business sector, largely as a result of falls in emissions from industrial combustion and from refrigeration and air conditioning. However, businesses still accounted for 17% of all emissions in the UK, making it the third largest contributor behind transport (27%) and energy supply (21%).

Overall, in 2019, emissions from the business sector were 32% lower than 1990 emissions. Most of this decrease came between 2001 and 2009, with a significant drop in 2009 likely driven by economic factors. However, there has been a gradual decline in emissions in recent years; the main driver being a reduction in emissions from industrial combustion (including iron and steel) which has led to a 42% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions since 1990.

The difference a year makes

The statistics only cover up to 2019, before the world was hit by a global pandemic. Next year’s report may show a sizeable drop in emissions: recent research indicates that emissions declined by 7% in 2020, the biggest annual fall in emissions since World War 2.

Climate change action has also greatly ramped up since 2019 – the year when the UK passed its 2050 net zero target into law. Since then, thousands of businesses globally have set net zero targets of some kind, and in the UK, the new Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting regulations have extended carbon reporting requirements to nearly 12,000 large companies. Next year’s official emissions count could make for a hopeful, and interesting read.