Greenhouse gas emissions by the United Kingdom

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The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

In 2019, net greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom (UK) were 454.8 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), of which 80% was carbon dioxide (CO2).[1] UK cumulative emissions are about 3% of the world total.[2] Emissions decreased in the 2010s due to the closure of almost all coal-fired power stations,[3] but in 2018 emissions per person were around 7 tonnes,[1] still somewhat above the world average.[4]

The UK has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050[5] and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has said it would be affordable.[6] The target for 2030 is a 68% reduction compared with 1990 levels.[7] As part of an economic stimulus to attempt to get out of the COVID-19 recession a green industrial policy is being considered.[8] One of the methods of reducing emissions is the UK Emissions Trading Scheme.[9]

The Committee on Climate Change is an independent body which advises the UK and devolved government. Meeting future carbon budgets will require reducing emissions by at least 3% a year.

Cumulative emissions[edit]

Cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750 are estimated to be around 80 billion tonnes,[10] about 3% of the world total.[2] 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.[1] This is mainly due to road vehicles, especially cars burning petrol and diesel, and has only slightly declined since 1990.[1]

Energy supply[edit]

Energy in the United Kingdom emitted about a fifth of GhG in 2019, mainly by burning gas to generate electricity.[1]


Extracting North Sea oil and gas is estimated to directly emit 3.5% of UK GhG.[11] Environmental activists say there should be no new gas fired power stations in the UK.[12]


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.[13]


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.[14]


Business was responsible for 17% of emissions in 2019.[1]


15% - mainly gas for heating and cooking.[1]

Land use[edit]


Agriculture is responsible for a tenth of emissions.[1][15]


UK peatlands 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.[16] The Wildlife Trusts say that selling peat should be banned.[17]


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.[18]
Graph of CO2 emissions by sector in the UK, 1990–2019.[note 1][19]

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.[20] Reductions in methane emissions are largely due to a decline in the country's coal industry and to improved landfilling technologies.[21]

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.[22] The law was adopted by the parliament in June 2019.[23]

The "legally binding" targets are a reduction of at least 100% by 2050 (against the 1990 baseline).[24]

It also mandates interim, 5-year budgets, which are:[25]

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.[26] One report showed that Britain's imports are responsible for more overseas emissions than those of any other European country, and should add an extra 4.3 tonnes CO
to the average 5.4 tonnes per capita.[27][28]

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.[29][30] But it is hoped increased supply of used fleet electric cars will eventually result in affordable second-hand electric cars for private buyers,[31] as purchase price is still a barrier for many consumers.[32] 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.[33]

Emissions Trading[edit]

The UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS) is the carbon emission trading scheme of the United Kingdom.[34] It is cap and trade and came into operation on 1 January 2021 following the UK's departure from the European Union.[35] The cap is reduced in line with the UK's 2050 net zero commitment.[36]


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


The Green Homes Grant, which was meant to help improve the insulation of existing homes, was heavily criticised by MPs in 2021.[37]


Since departure from the EU Common Agricultural Policy the Agriculture Bill was passed for agriculture in the United Kingdom.[38]

See also[edit]


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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990 to 2019". GOV.UK. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Analysis: Which countries are historically responsible for climate change?". Carbon Brief. 5 October 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  3. ^ Harrabin, Roger (5 February 2019). "Climate change: UK CO2 emissions fall again". Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  4. ^ "Where in the world do people emit the most CO2?". Our World in Data. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  5. ^ Harrabin, Roger (12 June 2019). "UK commits to 'net zero' emissions by 2050". BBC News. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Net zero: economy and jobs". Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  7. ^ "UK sets ambitious new climate target ahead of UN Summit". GOV.UK. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  8. ^ Harrabin, Roger (6 May 2020). "UK warned over coronavirus climate trap". BBC News. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  9. ^ Ng, Gabriel (23 January 2021). "Introducing the UK Emissions Trading System". Cherwell. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Cumulative CO2 emissions globally by country 2019". Statista. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ "UK's gas power plans risk derailing climate targets, thinktank says". the Guardian. 25 February 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Green groups dispute power station claim that biomass is carbon-neutral". the Guardian. 23 March 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  14. ^ Europe's Great Coal Collapse of 2019 Sandbag UK 18 September 2019
  15. ^ "Climate change: Will competing NI bills cause political wrangle?". BBC News. 27 March 2021. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  16. ^ SUMMARY IUCN UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands Summary of Findings October 2011
  17. ^ "Garden centres 'failing to stop peat sales'". BBC News. 2 April 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  18. ^ "2018 UK Greenhouse gas emissions, Provisional figures" (PDF). 28 March 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  19. ^ "2019 UK Greenhouse gas emissions, Provisional figures". 26 March 2020. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  20. ^ defra Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, published January 2006.
  21. ^ Environmental Change Institute (ECI) - Oxford University Archived 23 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine. (2006-10-24). Retrieved on 2010-11-04.
  22. ^ Harrabin, Roger (2 May 2019). "UK 'can cut emissions to nearly zero'". Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  23. ^ Shepheard, Marcus. "UK net zero target". Institute for government. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  24. ^ "Carbon budgets: how we monitor emissions targets". committee on climate change. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  25. ^ Carbon budgets - Department of Energy and Climate Change. Retrieved on 2010-11-04.
  26. ^ Black, Richard (9 March 2010). "Third of EU emissions 'imported'". BBC News.
  27. ^ Sample, Ian (8 March 2010). "UK import emissions are the highest in Europe, figures show". The Guardian. London.
  28. ^ "Analysis: UK's CO2 emissions fell for record sixth consecutive year in 2018". Carbon Brief. 4 March 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  29. ^ "Updated: Electric car grant cut to £2,500 and eligibility changed". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  30. ^ Ramey, Jay (25 March 2021). "Businesses Buy More EVs in the UK than Do Individuals". Autoweek. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  31. ^ "Electric vehicle RVs to dip, but 'no cliff edge' anticipated". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  32. ^ "Best used electric cars 2021". CAR Magazine. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  33. ^ Harrabin, Roger (24 September 2020). "Low tax on heating is bad for climate, report says". BBC News. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  34. ^ "Policy briefing: Get ready for the UK's emissions trading scheme". Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  35. ^ Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Participating in the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS), published 17 December 2021, accessed 15 January 2021
  36. ^ Ng, Gabriel (23 January 2021). "Introducing the UK Emissions Trading System". Cherwell. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  37. ^ "Green plan to upgrade homes was 'botched', say MPs". BBC News. 22 March 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  38. ^ "British farmers 'planning to ramp up net-zero investments as part of Covid-19 recovery'". Retrieved 30 March 2021.

External links[edit]