The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published this week (05 June) the UK Environmental Accounts for 2019 as a bulletin.
The UK Environmental Accounts show how the environment contributes to the economy (for example, through the extraction of raw materials), the impact that the economy has on the environment (for example, energy consumption and air emissions) and how society responds to environmental issues (for example, through taxation and expenditure on environmental protection).
- The continued switch away from coal towards gas and renewable energy resulted in a fall in UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2017, the continuation of a long-term trend.
- Households have been the biggest emitter of GHGs since 2015, accounting for one-quarter of total UK GHG emissions in 2017.
- Vegetation in the UK removed an estimated 28 million tonnes (CO2 equivalent) of carbon gases in 2017.
- Households accounted for almost two-fifths of revenue from environmental taxes in 2016.
- Just over half (56%) of all environmental tax revenue in 2018 was related to taxes on petrol, diesel and other fuels used for transport or heating.
They also reported that energy spply and manufacturing industries have increased their use of renewable energy sources and reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990.
The overall reductions in GHG emissions from 1990 to 2017 were driven largely by a switch from the use of coal and heavy-polluting fuels by the energy supply and manufacturing industries to other, more efficient, fuels such as natural gas and, more recently, renewable sources.
In 2017, coal use by the energy supply industry was around a tenth of its use in 1990. In June 2019, the UK National Grid Electricity System Operator reported the UK went two weeks without using coal for electricity generation for the first time since 1882.
When used for electricity generation, coal produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) than natural gas per unit of electricity produced, so the switch away from coal has led to a reduction in CO2 emissions. As CO2 is the most emitted greenhouse gas, changes in CO2 tend to be reflected in overall GHG emissions.
From 1990 to 2010, natural gas use by the energy supply industry grew from close to zero to 31 million tonnes of oil equivalent as natural gas use replaced coal use. Natural gas use by the energy supply industry has generally declined since 2010, to 23 million tonnes of oil equivalent by 2017 due to the industry’s increasing use of renewable sources.
A similar picture emerges for the manufacturing industry, where there has been a 75% reduction in coal use and a 94% reduction in fuel oil use since 1990. This has helped reduce reallocated2 energy consumption of the manufacturing industry to 40 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2017, which is 38% below 1990 levels. More recent reductions in the manufacturing industry have been a result of reduced activity in iron and steel and associated industries (PDF, 2.23MB).
All of these factors contributed to a fall in GHG emissions by these industries. GHG emissions from the energy supply industry have fallen to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2017, from a high of 199 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2006. GHG emissions from the manufacturing industry were 86 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2017, compared with a high of 181 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 1991 (Figure 1).