UK greenhouse gas intensity down by two-thirds since 1990

Provisional data on the UK’s greenhouse gas intensity shows a drop of two-thirds between 1990 and 2018, making it the fifth best performing European country.

The data, compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), records a steady decrease in emissions intensity, which measures the level of emissions against the value of goods and services produced by the UK economy. 

The trend “may indicate the UK is moving towards a greener and more sustainable economy”, the ONS notes, although “may also reflect changes to the structure of the economy, for example, a change from manufacturing to services”. 

In 2018 emissions intensity was 230 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every million pounds of output. That compares to 670 tonnes in 1990. 

Agriculture, energy supply and mining were the industries with the highest emissions intensity, although the energy sector has seen a decrease of almost 70% since 1990 as operators move from coal and gas to renewables. 

Energy was nevertheless still the largest absolute emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of manufacturing and transport. 

While the UK remains the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe - although producing half the amount of Germany - it had the fourth lowest emissions intensity, behind only Sweden, France, Luxembourg and Austria. 

Emissions intensity for other pollutants have also declined dramatically. Between 1990 and 2019, the rate of emissions contributing to acid rain fell by 88%, largely thanks to the decline of coal power, while carbon monoxide emissions intensity fell by 84% over the same time period. 

It comes as the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), Labour MP Mary Creagh, has written to business secretary Andrea Leadsom asking for guarantees that the next government will respond to issues raised by the committee in its inquiry on the UK’s net zero goal, which has been prematurely wrapped up following the decision to hold a general election.

“The government must show leadership and put its own house in order well before the national goal of net zero by 2050,” she said. 

Creagh urged Leadsom to consider setting a government-wide target to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.

“While the net zero government inquiry remains incomplete, our climate emergency makes this an area that the EAC may well wish to return to in future,” she added. 

See the ONS full report here

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