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Transportations emissions in the UK - Statistics & Facts

The transportation sector had been the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK for the majority of the past three decades, behind only the energy supply sector. However, in 2016 it became the most polluting sector for the first time and has remained there since. As of 2020, transportation accounted for 24.4 percent of the UK’s total emissions.

COVID-19 causes transportation emissions to plummet

The outbreak of COVID-19 heavily impacted the transportation sector in 2020. That year, travel restrictions caused UK transportation GHG emissions to fall 19 percent compared with 2019 to 98.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). The effects of COVID-19 on transportation CO2 emissions were first felt in the second quarter of 2020 when lockdowns were first imposed across the country. Emissions plummeted 43 percent that quarter compared with the same period in 2019. While emissions rebounded in the following months as lockdowns eased, they only returned to pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter of 2021. Total transportation emissions rebounded in 2021 to 107.5 MtCO2 due to easing restrictions and are expected to increase further in 2022.

Road transportation emissions

Road vehicles are by far the main source of transportation emissions in the UK, accounting for roughly 90 percent of the total in 2020. Passenger cars alone accounted for 52 percent of emissions, despite decreasing by 25 percent, relative to 2019 levels. Road freight vehicles were the second-largest source of emissions, with heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and light-duty vehicles (LDVs) emitting a combined 35 MtCO2e in 2020. There are far fewer of these vehicles on the road than passenger cars, which illustrates the significant carbon footprint of freight vehicles.

Net zero strategy for cutting transportation emissions

As the most polluting sector in the UK, cutting transportation emissions will be at the forefront of the country achieving its target of net zero emissions by 2050. In October 2021, the UK government published its net-zero strategy which outlined how it aims to reduce emissions across industry sectors, with several ambitious policies announced for the transportation sector. These include ending the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2030, with all new cars and vans requiring zero tailpipe emissions from 2035. There will also be additional support for the transition to electric vehicles, as well as improvements to the country’s EV charging infrastructure network. The UK will also aim to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040 and invest in rail electrification, as well as phase out the sale of new non-zero emission domestic shipping vessels. Meanwhile, aviation emission reductions will hope to be achieved by commercializing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Interesting statistics

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

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