MAR 07, 2018 10:22 AM PST

UK CO2 emissions are down overall but emissions from cars continue to rise

So, there’s good news and bad news. Which do you want first?

Okay, here’s the good news: the UK has managed to get their carbon emissions down to the same level that they were back in 1890!

But brace yourself: carbon emissions from vehicles are actually rising. How is that possible, you ask? Let’s take a closer look.

The information comes from Carbon Brief, a UK-based website that covers climate science and policy. Their numbers precede the official report from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which will come later this month, but give us a sneak peak as to what we can expect. According to the site, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels fell by 2.6% in 2017 as a consequence of a 19% decline in coal use during the year. 2016 was also a good year for carbon emissions reduction, as the UK saw a decline of 5.8% with a 52% fall in coal use. In fact, coal power currently only accounts for 5.3% of the total UK demand! Those successes combined leave the UK’s total CO2 emissions a whopping 38% below 1990 levels and equivalent to those in 1890. Talk about a blast to the past.

CO2 emissions from the transportation sector are on the rise. Photo: Shared Mobility

But, there’s a big but.

The level of CO2 emissions from cars hasn’t seen the same trend – in fact, those emissions are growing. According to BBC News, last year was the first time since 2000 that average car emissions have risen. Carbon Brief estimates that 49% of total UK CO2 emissions in 2017 was due to oil and petroleum use; in 2010 that number was only 37%. “The transportation sector consumed approximately 77% of all oil in 2015, the latest year where detailed breakdowns of consumption by sector are available,” the site explains.

Editor of Carbon Brief, Leo Hickman, summed up the importance of the site’s findings: "The data highlights the dramatic impact that the rapid decline of coal-fired power plants is having on the UK's emissions. The drop was not as pronounced as in 2016, but in 2017 coal was joined by a fall in the use of gas due to a milder winter. If the UK is to meet its climate targets over the next few decades, this rate of decline will need to be maintained, even accelerated. Action will need to be focused on the transport and building sectors, where emission reductions remain elusive."

Sources: Carbon Brief, BBC News, Gizmodo

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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