There was some positive news this week in the battle against climate change. New evidence has revealed that UK CO2 emissions have fallen 38% since 1990. This is a faster decline than any other major economy.
Three key reasons for this welcome decline in the main greenhouse gas responsible for manmade climate change are identified. Firstly, and most significantly, our electricity supply has become cleaner and greener. In 1990, 67% of UK electricity came from coal and a further 11% from oil. Now just 5% of electricity comes from coal, with the government pledged to shut down all remaining coal-fired power stations by 2025.
Secondly, the UK is now using less energy. Industry, business and homes have all become more efficient.
Thirdly, here has been a reduction in electricity use, which in turn is largely down to energy efficiency.
So, should we stop worrying about climate change, confident in the knowledge that we are heading in the right direction and that the UK is playing a major part in reducing global CO2 emissions?
Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. The latest report from climate scientists put the world on notice. It made clear we have limited time left to take the actions necessary to prevent the world warming by 1.5oC or less and warned of the risks to human health and wellbeing if the planet warms by more than this.
And the government should certainly not be let off the hook. The UK is still stuck in the dark ages, subsiding fossil fuels more than any other European country. The Tories are also expanding airports, building more roads, pushing fracking while stifling the cheapest forms of renewable energy: on-shore wind and solar. Both these sources are excellent candidates for community ownership, enabling communities to take back power and generate an income. But the government seems more interested in shoring up the profits of the energy giants than supporting local communities generate their own power.
There are also areas where the UK is stuck in the slow lane on reducing CO2 emissions, most notably transport. Greenhouse gas emissions from cars and other forms of transport have hardly fallen at all since 1990. Transport is now the biggest polluter, responsible for over a quarter of the UK’s emissions.
It must further be acknowledged that as UK manufacturing industries have declined, we have ‘off-shored’ our carbon emissions to places like China where many of the products we buy are manufactured.
But the greatest hope in the CO2 figures for the UK is they show reducing emissions, even in the absence of firm leadership and commitment from government, is eminently achievable. If we acknowledge that we face a climate emergency and there is the political will to act accordingly, we can transition to a zero-carbon economy and prevent climate breakdown.
Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West
6 February 2019