01 February 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions fell by a tenth in 2020 as Covid lockdown hit

01 February 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions fell by a tenth in 2020 as pandemic restrictions cut pollution from traffic, industry and energy supplies, official figures show.

Pollutants which drive climate change had fallen by half (49.7%) between the baseline year of 1990 and 2020 – which marks the half-way point for the target to reach zero emissions overall, known as “net zero”, by 2050.

In 2020, emissions were estimated to be nearly 406 million tonnes, a drop of 9.5% from 448 million tonnes in 2019, and compared to 806 million tonnes in 1990.

But Covid-19 lockdowns had a significant impact on the fall in emissions, in particular driving down transport pollution by nearly a fifth (19%) due to a large reduction in road traffic.

The transport sector still remained the biggest polluter, accounting for nearly a quarter (24%) of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, the last year for which figures are available.

Emissions from energy supply fell by 12% on 2019 levels as a result of lower energy demand during the pandemic and continued reduction in the use of fossil fuels in power stations, the data from the Business Department (Beis) show.

They are now 70% lower than they were in 1990, as coal power has dwindled to just 3% of electricity supplies and renewables have boomed.

There were also falls in emissions from industrial processes, waste management, the business sector and agriculture, but pollution from homes increased by 1% on 2019 levels as more people stayed at home.

The figures for 2020 account for “territorial” emissions, which only include pollution that occurs within the UK’s borders.

Consumption emissions, which account for the pollution associated with all the goods and services consumed in the UK, such as imported products, are considerably higher, having peaked in 2007, and have not fallen as far territorial emissions since 1990.

A Government spokesperson said: “Whilst the changes to our society and economy during the pandemic will have inevitably impacted greenhouse gas emissions, we continue to make significant progress in reducing emissions on our path to net zero by 2050.

“Moving forward, we are building on the UK’s track record of having decarbonised faster than any other G7 country, by doubling down on our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to further reduce Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

But Kate Blagojevic, head of climate for Greenpeace UK, said the Government “needs to urgently up its game”.

She said all the key technologies were there, and many had been developed to the point where they were more economic than the polluting tech they would replace, while the UK had ambitious climate targets set in law.

“But what we don’t have is time, and what we haven’t seen yet, and urgently need, is delivery.

“We need to see much more renewable energy and storage deployed, and energy efficiency measures, so that we can end our dependence on expensive and dirty gas in our homes and factories, and we need to cut down on industrial meat production.

“This will cut emissions and, with the right incentives, create jobs and prosperity,” she said, adding the Government needed to face down wealthy vested interests resisting change, in particular in the fossil fuel lobby.

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