Continuing decline in coal use
The big success story is the continuing decline in coal use, which according to Carbon Brief was down 21% in a year and just one quarter of the amount used in 1970.
“The fall in coal use means it reached a new nadir, having already dropped to levels not seen since the industrial revolution.”
Increasing oil and gas demand
However, this was partly offset by an increase in demand in oil and gas, which both increased slightly in 2015, up 1.4% and 2.7% respectively. Carbon Brief attribute this to lower oil prices, making petrol cheaper at the pumps, and cooler weather compared to a year earlier, leading to higher gas consumption.
But it also highlights our failure to transition to low carbon alternatives in both the transport sector and domestic heating supply.
“As ever, it’s worth keeping a longer-term perspective on the UK’s low-carbon transition. While last year saw record contributions from low-carbon sources, the UK still relies on fossil fuels for 82% of its energy and 54% of its power.
The UK’s fifth carbon budget, recently passed into law, will require the power sector to be largely decarbonised by 2030. Meanwhile, the Paris Agreement on climate change means the UK has pledged, along with almost 200 other nations, to almost completely decarbonise all energy use soon after mid-century. There’s a long way to go.”
‘Emissions reduction plan’
The fourth carbon budget was published in 2011. Five and a half years later, we still have no Carbon Plan. A ‘Carbon Plan’ or ‘Emissions Reduction Plan’ was previously promised by the Government before the end of 2016 and is expected to show which policy tools will be employed to meet the 4th & 5th Carbon Budgets.
On 7 September 2016, Nick Hurd MP (Con) told parliament that:
“As we develop our emissions reduction plan, which is one of the Department’s top priorities, we will set a course towards deeper emission reductions in both heating and transport.”
He went on to say:
“We need to get this right, and all I was saying is that that is the priority. If we can meet all those criteria—if we can do all those things—by the end of 2016, great, but the overriding priority is to get this right, and that is what drives us.”
What should be in the Emissions Reduction Plan?
Different policy tools will be required for different sectors, so it is worth looking at a breakdown of emissions by sector based on some 2013 figures from DECC. See separate links below for each sector to view mitigation strategies.
UK greenhouse gas emissions by sector (% of total emissions 2013):
- Energy supply (33.4%): Emissions from fuel combustion for electricity and other energy production sources.
- Transport (20.6%): Emissions from aviation, road transport, railways, shipping, fishing and aircraft support vehicles.
- Business (16.0%): Emissions from combustion in industrial/commercial sectors, industrial off-road machinery and refrigeration and air conditioning.
- Residential (13.7%): Emissions from fuel combustion for heating/cooking, garden machinery and fluorinated gases released from aerosols/metered dose inhalers.
- Agriculture (9.4%): Emissions from livestock, agricultural soils, stationary combustion sources and off-road machinery.
- Waste management (4.0%): Emissions from waste disposed of to landfill sites, waste incineration, and the treatment of waste water.
- Industrial processes(2.3%): Emissions from industry except for those associated with fuel combustion.
- Public (1.7%): Emissions from combustion of fuel in public sector buildings.
- Land use land use change and forestry (LULUCF) (-0.9%): Emissions from forestland, cropland, grassland, settlements and harvested wood products.
My 2050 world: how would you cut carbon while meeting energy demand? [Jane Dudman, Louise Tickle,David Brindle and David Walker, The Guardian, 18 September 2014]
UK lacks policies to meet more than half its carbon emissions cuts – report [Damian Carrington, 30 June 2016]
Nick Hurd confirmed as climate minister in new UK department [Sophie Yeo, Carbon Brief, 21 July 2016]
UK green energy sector needs nurturing over nuclear [Larry Elliott, The Guardian, 15 August 2016] – Technological advances mean the cost of renewables is coming down, representing far better value for taxpayers’ money
Could public support for renewables derail UK fracking and nuclear projects? [George Ogleby, Edie, 15 August 2016] – Amid a wave of discontent over the controversial fracking and Hinkley Point nuclear plant projects, recent developments suggest the general public are vying for low-carbon technologies to form the focal point of the UK Government’s clean energy mix.