A couple of weeks ago I was talking about how Ethiopia has been decoupling economic growth and carbon emissions with a friend, and commenting on how rare that story was. I suggested that Britain might also be decoupling, due to the falling use of coal. It was too early to tell, but if we waited a few more weeks we’d find out. With those few weeks passed, and here’s the good news: Britain’s CO2 emissions continue to tumble sharply.
UK carbon emissions have been falling for a while, partly due to offshoring heavy industry, but in 2014 we saw a steeper decline as coal power stations were closed – a record fall in a growing economy in fact, at 9.2%. Coal power has continued to decline and that accelerated decarbonisation continues for a third year in a row.
This is positive news for Britain’s carbon target, which is an 80% reduction on 1990 levels by 2050. Last year’s drop takes us to around 36%. A couple more years like this and we’ll be halfway to our target, with carbon emissions back to 19th century levels.
The bad news is that this story is all about coal. Coal consumption halved last year, as the energy sector continued to phase out coal power, and the Redcar steel plant closed down. But energy generation is the easiest sector to reduce emissions. The second half of that 80% target will be much harder.
So far, the other sectors of the economy aren’t really following suit. Beyond energy generation, we need to address heating. Here things are moving painfully slowly. CO2 emissions from the residential sector have only fallen by single figures since 1990, and road transport emissions haven’t shifted at all. That’s why, out of the many topics this blog covers, buildings and transport are the two that I try and write about every week.
Unless we can get things moving faster on renovation and household efficiency, and on car culture, our progress on emissions is going to stall. So let’s build on the start we’ve made, complete the transition away from coal, and up our game on housing and transport.