Emissions in the UK are fallingDespite its historical contributions to global emissions, the UK has been reducing its annual greenhouse gas levels for a number of years now in a bid to mitigate the impacts of climate change. In fact, UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by almost 50 percent compared to 1990 levels, dropping to an estimated 414 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020. 2020 experienced significant emission reductions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on industrial activities and travel, falling by nine percent compared to 2019 levels. This reduction means the UK is now halfway to reaching its 2050 target of net zero emissions.
While COVID-19 had a major impact on emissions in 2020, the overall driving factor for the decline in emissions in the UK is the transition from coal – the most polluting fossil fuel - as an energy source to renewable technologies and natural gas. Coal once fueled the country, but its share in the UK electricity generation mix has fallen considerably in recent years, and in 2020 Great Britain went a record four months without burning coal to generate electricity. This was the longest period without relying on coal since the industrial revolution. The decline in energy supply emissions in recent decades has seen the energy supply sector go from the main source of emissions in the UK to the second biggest, dropping below the transportation sector. Transportation now accounts for approximately 27 percent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has achieved a greater reduction in carbon dioxide emissions than many other countries over the past three decades, and this trend is set to continue.