Greenhouse gas emissions by the United Kingdom

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Development of carbon dioxide emissions, 1750 to 2020
Transport emits the most greenhouse gas.

In 2020, net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United Kingdom (UK) were a little over 400 million tonnes (Mt) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), of which about 320 Mt was carbon dioxide (CO2).[1] The government estimates that emissions increased by 6% in 2021 with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, about half of the increase being due to the extra road transport.[2] The UK has emitted about 3% of the world total human caused CO2, although the population is less than 1%.[3]

Emissions decreased in the 2010s due to the closure of almost all coal-fired power stations.[4] In 2020 emissions per person were somewhat over 6 tonnes when measured by the international standard production based greenhouse gas inventory,[5] near the global average.[6] But consumption based emissions include GHG due to imports and aviation so are much larger,[7] about 10 tonnes per person per year.[8]

The UK has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050[9] and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has said it would be affordable.[10] The target for 2030 is a 68% reduction compared with 1990 levels.[11] The UK has been successful in keeping its economic growth alongside taking climate change action. Since 1990, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 44% while the economy has grown by around 75% up until 2019.[12] One of the methods of reducing emissions is the UK Emissions Trading Scheme.[13]

Meeting future carbon budgets will require reducing emissions by at least 3% a year. At the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference the Prime Minister said the government would not be "lagging on lagging", but in 2022 the opposition said Britain was badly behind in such home insulation.[14] The Committee on Climate Change, an independent body which advises the UK and devolved government, has recommended hundreds of actions to the government,[15] including better energy efficiency, such as in housing.[16][17]

Monitoring, verification and reporting[edit]

Quarterly stats are being considered.[18]

Cumulative emissions[edit]

Cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750 are estimated to be around 80 billion tonnes,[19] about 3% of the world total.[3] As well as coal burnt during and since the Industrial Revolution, destruction of forests also contributed.

Emissions by sector[edit]


Transport in the United Kingdom is the biggest emitter, being responsible for over a quarter of GhG.[5] This is mainly due to road vehicles, especially cars burning petrol and diesel, and has only slightly declined since 1990.[5]

Transport was significantly impacted by COVID-19, as people were instructed to stay at home as much as possible. In 2020, territorial carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector were 97.2 Mt, 19.6% (23.7 Mt) lower than in 2019, and 22.5% lower than in 1990. In 2020 transport accounted for 29.8% of all territorial carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 33.1% in 2019. The large majority of emissions from transport are from road transport.[20]

Jet zero is the strategy to get to zero aviation emissions by 2050.[21]

Energy supply[edit]

Energy in the United Kingdom emitted about a fifth of GhG in 2019, mainly by burning gas to generate electricity.[5]


There were 50 enterprises in the United Kingdom oil and gas extraction industry with an annual turnover of more than five million British pounds as of 2021.[22]

Extracting North Sea oil and gas is estimated to directly emit 3.5% of UK GhG.[23] Environmental activists say there should be no new gas fired power stations in the UK.[24]


As of 2021 the net GhG and climate change effects of biomass fuel are still being researched and debated: one large user is Drax Power Station which aims to be carbon negative, but green groups dispute their carbon accounting and say that forests would not regrow quickly enough.[25]


UK will phase-out coal in 2024. UK's Eggborough's plant was closed in 2018. The UK had two weeks in May 2019 with all its coal plants switched off for the first time since the Industrial Revolution began.[26]


Territorial carbon dioxide emissions from the business sector were estimated to be 59.4 Mt in 2020 and accounted for around 18.2% of all carbon dioxide emissions. There has been a 46.8% decrease in business sector emissions since 1990. Most of this decrease came between 2001 and 2009, with a significant drop in 2009 likely to have been driven by economic factors.[20] The Humber industrial region is the UK's most emitting region, at 12 million tonnes of CO2 per year.[27]

A 2020 study suggest half of UK's 'true carbon footprint' is created abroad, a large percentage of this can be attributed to imports entering the UK from other countries. International travel can also be included in this sector.[28]


In 2020, the residential sector emitted 67.7 MtCO2, accounting for 20.8% of all carbon dioxide emissions.[20]

The main source of emissions in these sectors is the use of natural gas for heating (and for cooking in the case of the residential sector). Emissions from these sectors do not include emissions from the generation of electricity consumed, as these emissions are included in the energy supply sector.[20]

Governments have been criticised for support for home insulation being stop-start.[29] At COP26 Boris Johnson said the UK would not be lagging on lagging but the government was later criticised as doing that.[30]

Land use[edit]


Agriculture is responsible for a tenth of emissions.[5][31]

  • 68% of total nitrous oxide emissions [32]
  • 47% of total methane emissions
  • 1.7% of total carbon dioxide emissions


UK peatlands such as the Great North Bog cover around 23,000 km2 or 9.5% of the UK land area and store at least 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would equate to the total annual UK anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy peat bogs have a net long-term ‘cooling’ effect on the climate. Peatlands rely on water. When drained, peatlands waste away through oxidation, adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Damaged and degraded peatlands place a substantial financial burden on society because of increased greenhouse gas emissions, poorer water quality and loss of other ecosystem services.[33] The Wildlife Trusts say that selling peat should be banned.[34]


Deforestation contributes to climate change. Between 2016 and 2018, an area the size of the UK was used globally to meet British consumer demand for certain products such as palm oil, cocoa and others. Deforestation in the United Kingdom itself also contributes.[35]


UK carbon neutral plan[edit]

Graph of CO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, 1990–2018, data from Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.[36]
Graph of CO2 emissions by sector in the UK, 1990–2019.[note 1][37]

The sectoral graph excludes carbon emissions from international aviation and international shipping, which together rose by 74.2% from 22.65 to 39.45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 1990 and 2004.[38] Reductions in methane emissions are largely due to a decline in the country's coal industry and to improved landfilling technologies.[39]

The Climate Change Act 2008 set the country's emission reduction targets.

Before 2019 the UK was legally bound by the Climate Change Act to reduce emissions 80% by 2050, but a new law mandating a 100% cut was under discussion in 2019. According to the Committee on Climate Change, the UK can cut its carbon emissions down to near zero and so become carbon neutral, at no extra cost if done gradually from 2019 to 2050.[40] The law was adopted by the parliament in June 2019.[41]

The "legally binding" targets are a reduction of at least 100% by 2050 (against the 1990 baseline).[42]

It also mandates interim, 5-year budgets, which are:[43]

Carbon Budget Carbon budget level Reduction below 1990 levels
1st (2008 to 2012) 3,018 MtCO2e 25%
2nd (2013 to 2017) 2,782 MtCO2e 31%
3rd (2018 to 2022) 2,544 MtCO2e 37% by 2020
4th (2023 to 2027) 1,950 MtCO2e 51% by 2025
5th (2028 to 2032) 1,765 MtCO2e 57% by 2030
6th (2033 to 2037) 965 MtCO2e 78% by 2035

Criticism of targets[edit]

Production targets have been criticised for ignoring the emissions embodied in imports, thereby attributing them to other countries, such as China.[44] Including these gives a total for consumption based GHG emissions, also called the UK carbon footprint, of about 650 Mt a year.[45]

Tax policy[edit]

Businesses and employees are given tax breaks for electric cars and a much larger proportion of business vehicle purchases are electric than those of consumers.[46][47] But it is hoped increased supply of used fleet electric cars will eventually result in affordable second-hand electric cars for private buyers,[48] as purchase price is still a barrier for many consumers.[49] It has been suggested that value added tax (VAT) on natural gas used for heating should be raised from 5% to the usual 20% and the proceeds used to help poor people.[50]

Emissions Trading[edit]

The UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS) is the carbon emission trading scheme of the United Kingdom.[51] It is cap and trade and came into operation on 1 January 2021 following the UK's departure from the European Union.[52] The cap is reduced in line with the UK's 2050 net zero commitment.[53]


The Government is developing a plan to accelerate the decarbonisation of transport. The Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) will set out in detail what government, business and society will need to do to deliver the significant emissions reduction needed across all modes of transport, putting us on a pathway to achieving carbon budgets and net zero emissions across every single mode of transport by 2050.[54][needs update]

Sales of non-electric cars will end by 2030 and hybrids by 2035.


On the domestic level, the UK aims to reduce direct CO2 emissions from homes by 24% by 2030. There are several ways to achieve this goal, such as home insulation, the installation of heat pumps, and the use of renewable energy such as solar panels.[55]

As of 2022 the installation cost of a heat pump is more than a gas boiler, but with the government grant and assuming electricity/gas costs remain similar their lifetime costs would be similar.[56] However the share of heatpumps in the UK is far below the European average.[57]

More waste heat could be saved and used - for example in London.[58]


Since departure from the EU Common Agricultural Policy the Agriculture Bill was passed for agriculture in the United Kingdom.[59]

The most common actions to reduce GHG emissions were recycling waste materials, improving nitrogen fertiliser application and improving energy efficiency. These are actions that are relevant to most farm enterprises. Those actions more suited to livestock enterprises had a lower level of uptake.[32]

  • The 2021 Farm Practices Survey (FPS) indicated that 67% of farmers thought it important to consider GHGs when making farm business decisions, whilst 27% considered it not important.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As of September 2020, published figures for 2019 are still provisional.


  1. ^ "2020 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Final Figures" (PDF).
  2. ^ "2021 UK greenhouse gas emissions, provisional figures" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b "Analysis: Which countries are historically responsible for climate change?". Carbon Brief. 5 October 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  4. ^ Harrabin, Roger (5 February 2019). "Climate change: UK CO2 emissions fall again". Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990 to 2019". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  6. ^ Ritchie, Hannah; Roser, Max; Rosado, Pablo (11 May 2020). "CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions". Our World in Data.
  7. ^ "Carbon footprint for the UK and England to 2019". GOV.UK. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  8. ^ "UK average footprint". Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  9. ^ Harrabin, Roger (12 June 2019). "UK commits to 'net zero' emissions by 2050". BBC News. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Net zero: economy and jobs". Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  11. ^ "UK sets ambitious new climate target ahead of UN Summit". gov.ul. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  12. ^ "2019 Progress Report to Parliament". Climate Change Committee. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  13. ^ Ng, Gabriel (23 January 2021). "Introducing the UK Emissions Trading System". Cherwell. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  14. ^ "Where Britain's journey to insulation went wrong". the Guardian. 19 April 2022. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  15. ^ "2022 Progress Report to Parliament". Climate Change Committee. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  16. ^ "UK Scales Back £1 Billion Funding to Help Homes Cut Energy Use". 29 July 2022. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  17. ^ "UK must insulate homes or face a worse energy crisis in 2023, say experts". the Guardian. 11 September 2022. Retrieved 12 September 2022.
  18. ^ "Developing quarterly greenhouse gas emissions accounts". GOV.UK. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  19. ^ "Cumulative CO2 emissions globally by country 2019". Statista. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  20. ^ a b c d "2020 UK greenhouse gas emissions, provisional figures" (PDF). 21 March 2021.
  21. ^ "Jet Zero strategy: delivering net zero aviation by 2050". GOV.UK. Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  22. ^ "Oil & gas extraction enterprises UK 2021, by turnover". Statista. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  23. ^ "UK: Gov't, Oil Industry Strike North Sea Deal to Protect Jobs in Green Energy Transition". Offshore Engineer Magazine. 24 March 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  24. ^ "UK's gas power plans risk derailing climate targets, thinktank says". the Guardian. 25 February 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Green groups dispute power station claim that biomass is carbon-neutral". the Guardian. 23 March 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  26. ^ Europe's Great Coal Collapse of 2019 Sandbag UK 18 September 2019
  27. ^ "Equinor, SSE Thermal acquire Triton Power preparing for transition to hydrogen - Green Hydrogen News". 28 June 2022.
  28. ^ "Half UK's true carbon footprint created abroad, research finds". the Guardian. 16 April 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  29. ^ "Green energy measures saving households £1,000 a year – analysis". the Guardian. 28 January 2022. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  30. ^ "'Major misjudgment': how the Tories got their energy strategy so wrong". the Guardian. 6 April 2022. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  31. ^ "Climate change: Will competing NI bills cause political wrangle?". BBC News. 27 March 2021. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  32. ^ a b c "Agri-climate report 2021". Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  33. ^ SUMMARY IUCN UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands Summary of Findings October 2011
  34. ^ "Garden centres 'failing to stop peat sales'". BBC News. 2 April 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  35. ^ "Climate change: How the UK contributes to global deforestation". BBC News. 26 August 2020. Retrieved 29 August 2022.
  36. ^ "2018 UK Greenhouse gas emissions, Provisional figures" (PDF). 28 March 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  37. ^ "2019 UK Greenhouse gas emissions, Provisional figures". 26 March 2020. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  38. ^ defra Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, published January 2006.
  39. ^ Environmental Change Institute (ECI) - Oxford University Archived 23 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine. (2006-10-24). Retrieved on 2010-11-04.
  40. ^ Harrabin, Roger (2 May 2019). "UK 'can cut emissions to nearly zero'". Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  41. ^ Shepheard, Marcus. "UK net zero target". Institute for government. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  42. ^ "Carbon budgets: how we monitor emissions targets". committee on climate change. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  43. ^ Carbon budgets - Department of Energy and Climate Change. Retrieved on 2010-11-04.
  44. ^ Black, Richard (9 March 2010). "Third of EU emissions 'imported'". BBC News.
  45. ^ "Carbon footprint for the UK and England to 2019". GOV.UK. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  46. ^ "Updated: Electric car grant cut to £2,500 and eligibility changed". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  47. ^ Ramey, Jay (25 March 2021). "Businesses Buy More EVs in the UK than Do Individuals". Autoweek. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  48. ^ "Electric vehicle RVs to dip, but 'no cliff edge' anticipated". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  49. ^ "Best used electric cars 2021". CAR Magazine. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  50. ^ Harrabin, Roger (24 September 2020). "Low tax on heating is bad for climate, report says". BBC News. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  51. ^ "Policy briefing: Get ready for the UK's emissions trading scheme". Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  52. ^ Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Participating in the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS), published 17 December 2021, accessed 15 January 2021
  53. ^ Ng, Gabriel (23 January 2021). "Introducing the UK Emissions Trading System". Cherwell. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  54. ^ "Decarbonising Transport Setting the Challenge" (PDF). 2020.
  55. ^ "Reducing GHG Emissions in the UK with 57% by 2030". Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  56. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Sliced Bread, Air Source Heat Pumps". BBC. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  57. ^ "Can heat pumps free Europe from Russian gas dependency?". Energy Monitor. 28 April 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  58. ^ Turns, Anna (23 February 2023). "Recapturing excess heat could power most of Europe, say experts". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  59. ^ "British farmers 'planning to ramp up net-zero investments as part of Covid-19 recovery'". Retrieved 30 March 2021.

External links[edit]