Is the UK a “World Leader” in tackling climate change?

Is the UK a “World Leader” in tackling climate change?

The spotlight has been turned on the UK’s pollution record in recent days. While protesters have demanded a faster pace of change, politicians have been quick to claim the country is at the forefront of reducing pollution.

The latest set of figures on pan-EU emissions cover the year 2016. Analysis on the numbers show the UK is the second the biggest emitters of CO2 equivalent pollution in the bloc. However, this isn’t a complete picture once population, the economy and the rate of change is considered.

The second biggest CO2 polluter in the EU

The UK is the second largest producer of CO2 equivalent emissions in the EU. In 2016, an estimated 516 million tonnes were emitted, although this was dwarfed by Germany’s 936 million tonnes. This could be explained by German’s reliance on “dirty coal” to produce electricity, as well as larger and stronger manufacturing base than the UK’s service dominated economy.

Emissions are falling quickly

Across the EU, emissions have been falling steadily. Between 2006 and 16, a 16% fall was reported. France and Germany failed to match this pace, while Malta and Denmark came out on top with reductions in excess of 30%. The UK came fourth, seeing a 28.4% cut. On average, the UK reduces its output by 20 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Brits are averagely dirty

The mean CO2 emissions per head of population is around 8.7 tonnes. The UK is slightly better than this at 7.9 tonnes, which places it almost exactly mid-table. Both France and Italy fare better, Germany much worse. Malta tops the table, with 5.2 tonnes per person. 

Not quite a “low carbon” economy

Using a “tonnes per €1bn GDP” measure, the UK’s economy is not the greenest. That goes to Sweden, who produce around 150,000 tonnes of CO2 for every €1B in GDP. The UK comes in at seventh, with 310,000 tonnes. Of the EU’s “big 4” economies, only France does better. Luxembourg’s small population makes it something of an outlier, producing a third as much pollution as its nearest rival.

Have policy changes affected the pace of change?

Since the figures were produced, there have been changes in the UK that may affect future performance. Onshore wind farms will no longer be allowed, feed in tariffs for small scale generation have been abolished, affecting their affordability and biomass and gas are increasingly being used to generate power.

Conclusion: could do much better than peers

There is no escaping the fact the UK is the second largest producer of CO2 equivalent emissions in the EU. Nor can the country be proud of being “mid-table” when considering how much is produced for each person in the country. Yet the economy does produce less CO2 for each Euro of GDP and the rate at which emissions have fallen over the past decade is impressive.

This doesn’t mean the country can rest on its laurels though, as more than a tenth of the EU’s emission pollution comes from here. As other countries advance their climate change agenda, some measures the government has taken are expected to slow the rate of change.

As many a teacher might write on the report card, the result is “doing well, but must try harder.”

Sources: Charts and analysis by Dalmeny Close. Data from Eurostat / European Environment Agency. Retrieved on 23rdApril 2019.

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