UK emissions plunge in 2009

Huhne warns against complacency as provisional data point to renewed rise in emissions in 2010

UK greenhouse gas emissions plunged in 2009, recording the fastest annual drop since 1990, according to confirmed figures released by the energy and climate department (DECC).

The fall leaves UK greenhouse gas emissions some 26% below 1990 levels. This is more than twice the 12.5% reduction required under the Kyoto protocol over the period 2008-12. It is also below the government’s more ambitious carbon budget for the same period. Indeed, emissions were within a whisker of the UK target for the second carbon budget period, 2013-17.

The overall drop in the six Kyoto greenhouse gases relative to 2008 was 8.7% to reach 566 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The drop was slightly sharper than the provisional figures for the period 2008-2009 released in April 2010 (ENDS Report, April 2010).

Annual CO2 emissions, accounting for about 84% of total UK emissions, fell by 9.8% relative to 2008, to 473.7Mt, in line with projections.

The drop was primarily due to deepening recession, but there was also more electricity generation from nuclear power stations restored after maintenance shutdowns.

Sharp drops in emissions were recorded in all sectors, led by the energy sector, which fell 11% relative to 2008, equivalent to 24MtCO2e, and 11.8% in the business sector. Grid average carbon intensity of UK electricity fell to 496 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour in 2009, from 545g/kWh in 2008, according to separate figures from DECC.

Relatively, the sharpest drop came in the industrial process sector, falling 36.5%, while the transport and residential sectors fell by just 4.2% and 5.8% respectively.

But the respite may be short-lived. Early indications are that greenhouse gas emissions rose slightly in 2010 as economic recovery started.

Analysis by ENDS of energy consumption data during the first three quarters of 2010 (ENDS Report, January 2011) point to a 2.8% rise relative to 2009, though greenhouse gas emissions rose less, by 1.7%. This was due to a sharp increase in lower-carbon natural gas use relative to coal and oil.

Presenting the data, energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne acknowledged emissions were down in 2009 but stressed “so was the economy so this is no time for back slapping”. He added that future green growth had to be low carbon, cutting oil dependence. “That’s why we’re wasting no time in reforming the electricity market, setting up the Green Investment Bank, and legislating for the Green Deal.”

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