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Emissions in the UK - Statistics & Facts

In the mid-1700s, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to industrialize, kick-starting the Industrial Revolution and ushering in the age of fossil fuels as an energy source. For more than a century the UK accounted for almost all the anthropogenic CO2 emissions produced worldwide, with carbon-intensive coal fueling its empire.

The UK has continued to produce large amounts of emissions since 1750, and as of 2020, it had released almost 80 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) into the atmosphere. This makes the UK the fifth biggest CO2 emitter in history.

Emissions in the UK are falling

UK annual greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by roughly 50 percent since 1990, dropping to a low of 405.5 MtCO2e in 2020. That year, UK GHG emissions reduced by 9.5 percent relative to 2019 levels. This substantial decrease was caused by lockdowns and restrictions brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19. While the pandemic had a major impact on emissions in 2020, GHG emissions in the UK were already in decline. The overall driving factor for the UK’s falling emissions has been the phasing out of coal-fired power and the transition towards renewable sources and natural gas. Coal once fueled the country, but its share in the UK power mix has fallen considerably in recent years. As a result, coal combustion emissions have dropped more than 90 percent compared with 1990 levels.

Sources of UK emissions

The move away from coal use has contributed to UK energy supply emissions falling from 280 MtCO2e to 84 MtCO2e between 1990 and 2020. Energy supply has historically been the largest source of emissions in the UK, but in 2016 it was surpassed by the transportation sector – which produced 199 MtCO2e in 2020. Transportation now accounts for 24.4 percent of GHG emissions, with the energy supply sector accounting for 20.7 percent. The primary greenhouse gas emitted by transportation and energy supply is carbon dioxide, while methane is the most abundant GHG produced by the agriculture and waste sectors.

Reaching net-zero emissions

The UK has been successful in cutting emissions and is now halfway to achieving its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. But to continue this progress and mitigate the impacts of climate change, more needs to be done. As part of the country’s Net Zero Strategy, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of all UK electricity coming from clean energy sources by 2035. Carbon capture and storage will also play an essential role, with new projects already planned. Meanwhile, the UK is aiming to cut transportation emissions by ending the sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. UK food emissions will also need to be cut drastically, which will involve eating less meat and dairy, as well as reducing food waste.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 27 most important statistics relating to "Emissions in the UK".

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