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How The UK Has Cut Co2 Since 1990

October 27, 2018

By Paul Homewood


The government, and Claire Perry in particular, like to keep telling us how much we have cut emissions of CO2 already in the UK.

Last week, she claimed:

The UK is already a world leader when it comes to tackling climate change. We led the world with our Climate Change Act, and since 1990 we have led the G7 in cutting emissions while growing our economy on a per person basis

The message is clear – we can keep cutting emissions without harm to the economy, just as we supposedly have in the past.

But a look at the actual numbers tells a rather different story.

First, the basic numbers:

Between 1990 and 2016, emissions of CO2 (ie not all GHGs) fell from 596 to 356 MtCO2. (Latest data is only available up to 2016).

Nearly all of the reduction occurred in two sectors, industrial and power.



Emissions of CO2 from industry fell by 63 MtCO2 up to 2016. This drop emissions  was a steady process, beginning around 2001. It is hard to see that this is anything other than the result of industrial decline. According to BEIS, energy consumption by industrial fell from 34.6 to 23.1 Mtoe during that period.

Of course, companies are always looking at ways to save energy, as I can personally attest from my years in the steel industry in the 1970s and 80s. But such savings tended to be more than offset by increased production.

Whatever the factors behind this decline, it certainly cannot be claimed by Perry as a positive benefit of her climate policies.

That brings us to the power sector, where emissions fell by 137 MtCO2 between 1990 and 2016. This figure can be neatly divided into two distinct segments:

  • 1990 to 2009 – 52 MtCO2
  • 2009 to 2016 – 85 MtCO2

The only significant change to the electricity mix prior to 2009 was a major shift from coal power to CCGT. Coal power virtually halved from 234 to 120 TWh, whilst CCGT rose from virtually zero to 159 TWh.

Total generation also rose by 40 TWh. Renewables were still in their infancy in 2009, so the vast bulk of the emission savings were the result of the switch from coal to gas, the dash for gas as it was called at the time, which began in earnest in 1993.

As in the US with their shale gas revolution, switching from coal to gas resulted in cheaper power and reduced emissions. Again, Perry cannot claim this as the result of climate policy.

With coal power now down to 21 TWh last year, there is obviously little scope for any more emissions from that direction.

The second period since 2009 is more complicated, but the changes in generation are shown below:

Twh 2016 v 2009
Coal -81
Biomass 21
Gas -30
Wind/Solar 52
Imports 12
Total -26

Obviously the switch to wind/solar has been a major contributory factor to the reduction in emissions, as has reduced consumption (for whatever reason). Increased imports has also helped to reduce UK emissions, regardless of how they were generated.

Equally, biomass also counts as zero emissions, but we know that this is far from the case in real life.

If we go back and summarise the emission changes since 1990, we can make some educated guesses:

  • Reduced industrial energy consumption: –63 MtCO2
  • Dash for gas 1990 to 2009: – 52 MtCO2
  • Wind/Solar: – 42 MtCO2
  • Reduced electricity consumption: – 20 MtCO2
  • Increased electricity imports: – 9 MtCO2
  • Biomass: – 14 MtCO2
  • LULUCF (Land use changes etc): – 16 MtCO2
  • Others : – 24 MtCO2

Total emissions have been cut by 240 MtCO2 since 1990, but adding biomass back into the figures as real emissions, the cut is only 226 MtCO2.

Of this, arguably only the saving of 42 MtCO2 from wind and solar can be said to be a direct result of govt policy. And this has been achieved only at great cost to the economy.

In terms of what is sustainable into the future, even if the power sector was totally decarbonised ( a highly unlikely prospect in the foreseeable future), we would only save a further 66 MtCO2.

The reality is that the bulk of emission savings since 1990 have not been the result of renewable energy, nor of any government action. Instead they have arisen because of a mix of unconnected events, which either cannot be repeated or we would not want to see be.

To pretend that we can carry on cutting emissions just as we did in the past and without any damage to the economy is mendacious in the extreme.

  1. John permalink
    October 27, 2018 1:42 pm

    As we have discussed before, we have closed industry in the UK and moved it abroad, often the Far East, with no net decrease in CO2.
    I was in charge within a company on the mitigation to Ed Miliband and the EU’s ‘Climate Change Act’, even then in 2008 it was clear what was going to happen. We lobbied politicians but no one was interested, in fact it was clear many did not know what they were doing.
    We urgently, after Brexit, we need to repeal the Climate Change Act and replace it with appropriate mitigation for the UK and the 21st Century

    • Rowland P permalink
      October 27, 2018 5:51 pm

      UKIP is the only party committed to repealing this odorous, fraudulent Act; The Party is rising from the ashes with a sensible new leader.

      • bobn permalink
        October 27, 2018 11:55 pm

        Repealing that criminal Act is enough reason to get my vote.

      • October 28, 2018 10:23 am

        ‘odorous’ should say ‘odious’ or ‘malodorous’ – or both 🙂

      • George Lawson permalink
        October 28, 2018 12:29 pm

        “The UK is already a world leader when it comes to tackling climate change. We led the world with our Climate Change Act,”

        Absolutely correct. The rest of the world were not so stupid and have laughed at the way our parliament fell for such an expensive and ridiculous act.

  2. quaesoveritas permalink
    October 27, 2018 1:48 pm

    We have exported our emissions to China and India.
    To be honest, we should measure CO2 on our consumption, not our production.
    Not that it matters.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      October 27, 2018 3:23 pm

      Exported and increased! Because China et el are so inefficient, they produce a great deal more CO2 per ton of steel etc. than the we ever did.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 27, 2018 7:50 pm

      ‘Not that it matters’. Quite so.

  3. richard verney permalink
    October 27, 2018 2:00 pm

    Are these figures real measured CO2 emissions, or estimated CO2 emissions?

    I have in mind the power sector, where there has been a switch from coal to biomass. Burning biomass produces more CO2 than burning coal (or of course, gas) because of its lower calorific value. DRAX gets a free pass on CO2 whereas in practice it emits more CO2 with its wood burners than it did when it was burning coal (and when burning coal it produced far more power).

    The upshot of this is that perhaps in practice the power sector has not cut in real terms CO2 emissions as the government claims, with the worrying fact that almost all CO2 reduction is the result of offshoring heavy industry to China and India where they emit the CO2, rather than the CO2 being emitted in the UK. Thereby, no reduction in global CO2 emissions, just window dressing and virtue signalling by the UK Government.

    Germany, which has not reduced CO2 emissions since 2009, notwithstanding a doubling in solar and wind, demonstrates that wind and solar do not reduce CO2 emissions, because of their intermittent and non despatchable nature thereby requiring almost 100% backup from conventional fossil fuel power generation.

    It may be very painful for the UK to significantly reduc its CO2 emissions unless it fracks and switches from coal to gas power energy production, just like the US. It appears that of all the developed nations, only the US will significantly reduce its CO2 emissions by 2030. How embarrassing for all European Governments who are wedded to the Paris Accord.

  4. Broadlands permalink
    October 27, 2018 2:12 pm

    A small quibble? Renewables and cutting emissions does not cut the CO2 in the atmosphere. That’s why so much is being invested in negative emission technologies. Capture CO2 and then try to find a safe place to bury it geologically. Good luck with that storage.

    • bobn permalink
      October 27, 2018 3:12 pm

      Storage would be a terrible waste of that useful CO2 plant food that has no impact on climate. CO2 cant change the climate as its thermal capacity is close to zero. But nobody reads science anymore, especially not the ‘Climate non-scientists’.

    • John permalink
      October 27, 2018 5:18 pm

      There is reason no one can make a go of Large Scale Carbon Capture Schemes its a technological nightmare. Lots of companies have looked and ran away

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 27, 2018 7:56 pm

      Only one thing to say about CCS: Lake Nyos. ‘Earthquakes’ from fracking will pale into insignificance if any CO2 escapes CCS.

      • Broadlands permalink
        October 28, 2018 1:52 am

        Harry.. exactly! It’s safety. And when the amount to be removed and buried is said to be at least 50 ppm that’s more than 350 billion tons of oxidized carbon. Never mind how or the cost… where safely? This plan makes nuclear waste safety look like child’s play. The difference is that a few adults are playing with our planet, not children.

  5. Ian Miller permalink
    October 27, 2018 2:38 pm

    The horror of the Left currently on the roll in the West and sensing victory, needs to be exposed in the National Interest. Through the imposition of the 2008 virtue signalling, politically correct Climate Change Act they have raised the extent of backlog taxpayer and bill-payer funded energy subsidies to un-competitive levels . this costly piece of self-destruction will go on pushing up the cost of energy, heating, transport and hence everything we buy and do, until the gullible politicians are forced to re-examine.
    They have forced the UK to introduce an ENERGY MIX of two completely incompatible systems renewable and conventional, thus simultaneously removing any possible introduction of Economies of Scale. By suing fracking companies trying desperately to introduce some reliability into our electricity supply, they can have only one avowed aim, – to bring this country to its knees.
    Meanwhile they are aghast at the suggestion that nuclear energy be introduced because it might just be the long term solution we all need. Through the imposition of unrealistic emissions regulations they are on the way to destroying all car manufacturing. They are currently targeting the Plastics Industry on which our current living standards hugely depend.
    They infiltrate right-Wing government intent on destroying it, Their final trick will be to further mis-inform the public through their Biased Broadcasting Corporation mouthpiece, and then by subversion of the Legal System, sue the same democratically elected governments for failing to carry out the misguided electorate’s alleged legitimate wishes. Just as currently in Venezuela, – the avowed aim of the Left is destruction and grinding poverty for us all, from which only its rulers benefit.
    Amazingly and by coincidence, Claire Perry, once described by George Monbiot in the Guardian as a firebrand wishing to nationalise the banks and overthrow Capitalism, is now in charge of UK Energy Policy, while Christiana Figueres, recently executive secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, also admitted that the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism.

    • Jon Scott permalink
      October 27, 2018 5:15 pm

      And if you want to know where this ALLLLLLLL started look no further than the Frankfurt School and Critical theory. Then you will understand why our education institutions are full of lefties, our unions are militant, why feminism is on acid and why the young, the ever so gulible hate their skin and the country which produced them.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        October 27, 2018 8:32 pm

        Jon, isn’t it curious that Common Purpose (CP) should be the reason we have to suffer PC. We should challenge PC wherever we find it because CP like to think that people will just say – with a shrug – ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ – and then do nothing about it, until it’s too late. CP believe in the softly, softly approach.

  6. HotScot permalink
    October 27, 2018 2:48 pm

    The worst is yet to come.

    When it becomes obvious to everyone, even politicians that the planets temperature isn’t rising the claims will be that policies to reduce CO2 emissions and implement renewable energy have all proved fruitful. We will all then be urged to do more, install more wind turbines and solar arrays; the call for CO2 sequestration will become even more strident, whilst atmospheric CO2 continues to rise.

    This is likely never to end as the outcomes of climate change are a socialist endeavour, more central power, more central taxes, more bureaucracy growth, and socialists never give up.

    Governments just love to build bureaucracies larger and larger to insulate leaders from accusations of incompetence. Surrounding themselves with minions gives them more people to blame when things go tits up.

    • Jon Scott permalink
      October 27, 2018 5:25 pm

      I am old…. 60 and my first education is as a geologist. I can also count. I pay attention when physicists talk on the subject of the climate industry because that is what it is. I am to the point of concluding that the way terrestrial temperature is recorded is now so corrupted and that an average temperature for the planet is a worthless term that I would not put it beyond the relms of fantasy that the temperature is only peturbating around a very general mean. I mean for FS! they are wailing about a 1.5 degrees temperature increase……since the Little Ice Age not from todays temperature even! The clue is in the name. That was NOT normal yet getting warmer since then they claim is a disaster. You could not make it up …… but they do! What was the temperature before the Little Ice Age? Where is the work to tell us what the best (worthless) average temperature is? How many hundreds of thousands of people around the world are doing worthless climate jobs? How much of the worlds resources is going into worthless climate technology? How much money is wasted on education for people to then work in this worthless industry. We are looking at the collapse of Western Civilization because the West cannot balance its books with subsidies!

      • Broadlands permalink
        October 28, 2018 1:07 am

        Jon.. I too am a geologist (now retired). The perspective we get is quite different from the physicists (Hello Lord Kelvin). And the empirical evidence tells us that the last few years are nothing to worry about, nor is the future. After all, back in the late Eocene the CO2 was more than double what it is now and no “catastrophic” heat was recorded by the oceanic plankton who encountered a pH much lower than ours. The Tertiary was a period of lush plant growth. The polar ice caps were beginning to form. There were no subsidies.

  7. manicbeancounter permalink
    October 27, 2018 3:07 pm

    With respect to actual decarbonisation policies, what needs to be considered is the law of diminishing returns. The closing of a few coal-fired power stations, although costly, was much less costly than getting rid of the internal combustion engine in cars or cutting effective emissions from homes. The real pain is just around the corner.
    That there will be diminishing returns is fairly obvious. In 2016 emissions were 40% lower than in 1990. A good part of that was due to declining manufacturing, a switch from coal to gas and the definition of biomass as emission free. Transport emissions have not risen due to the increase in fuel efficiency offsetting the rise in the number of vehicle miles.

  8. bobn permalink
    October 27, 2018 3:22 pm

    What an utter waste of everything this tilting at dragons is. CO2 is good and doents influence climate to any degree that is measurable. CO2 is great and i’m now producing it as fast as i can. Great year for fruit so i have lots of wine fermenting and giving off lovely CO2, and thanks to the Govt raising the price of electricity I’ve installed an additional woodburner, probably add a third next year so i can produce lots of smoke since the Govt’s making using electricity for heating too expensive. The ‘Climate and Earthquake Change Act’ is forcing me to Burn, burn, burn!

  9. bobn permalink
    October 27, 2018 3:26 pm

    I also think its highly irresponsible of Govt not to have passed a ‘Continental Drift Change Act’. Obviously due to increased Population the pressure of all those feet is forcing the continents apart. Govt should pass an ‘Act’ to stop this drift!!!!!!!!!!! !-)

  10. Broadlands permalink
    October 27, 2018 3:58 pm

    Christiana Figueres “…. the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism.”

    “But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy…One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy any more.”

    —Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-chair of IPCC WG III, New American, Nov. 19, 2010

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 27, 2018 8:39 pm

      Broadlands: I may have mentioned this on here before but Claire Perry has form: She was at Brasenose, Cambridge with Monbiot. He claimed: ‘[she was] a firebrand who wanted to nationalise the banks and overthrow capitalism”. I wrote and challenged her on this and she said I shouldn’t believe all I read on Wiki. But, she hasn’t changed the comment on her page – which she could do easily.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        October 28, 2018 1:02 am

        BNC is an Oxford college.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        October 28, 2018 11:52 am

        IDAU…Doh! Sorry, my right brain knew that but my left brain was doing the typing!

  11. Jack Broughton permalink
    October 27, 2018 4:12 pm

    It is also worth noting that the much crowed over technology lead that the UK has is not a UK lead in manufacturing equipment, but a lead in buying in solar and wind equipment from overseas, then paying massive subsidies to the investors In the technology.

    Heads we lose, tails we lose!

  12. Coeur de Lion permalink
    October 27, 2018 5:14 pm

    I see there are numerous signatory countries to the Paris Agreement who are full of praise for our successes in this field and are clamouring to know how we’ve managed it so that they can follow suit. Not

  13. mikewaite permalink
    October 27, 2018 8:09 pm

    “We are world leaders ” but we look back, and no – one is following .
    We are pursuing the “road least traveled” in concentrating on wind and solar and eschewing the shale gas and coal that we have in plenty , and the nuclear power where we were once truly world leaders.
    Not a good thing .
    There is a very good reason for some routes being “the least traveled” – they go nowhere worthwhile.
    Intelligent travelers take the more popular routes.

  14. John F. Hultquist permalink
    October 27, 2018 8:39 pm

    A leader needs to look behind once in awhile to see if anyone is following.

    Another way of saying what Coeur de Lion wrote at 5:14.

    • Broadlands permalink
      October 28, 2018 1:18 am

      The famous American Negro baseball player once said…

      “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” In Paris? The costs!

  15. October 28, 2018 4:42 am

    Just as in the US private enterprise saved CO2 emissions and money. The central planned renewable power plan does not work a nd will further reduce UK industry in the already hard hit Industrial North.

  16. Graham permalink
    October 28, 2018 7:28 am

    I have been following the Climate debate for long time. This is marvellous thread with logical arguments in pursuit of the truth. The problem with truth is that our Government and Electorate generally do not want to hear it , for a variety of reasons. Therefore the act will remain unchanged and we will continue down the wrong path. How do you get this act changed by using Democratic means ? Breathe out…

  17. October 28, 2018 10:51 am

    “…Total emissions have been cut by 240 MtCO2 since 1990……….Of this, arguably only the saving of 42 MtCO2 from wind and solar can be said to be a direct result of govt policy. And this has been achieved only at great cost to the economy…”

    Meanwhile, nuclear power in the UK has maybe generated 120 TWh per year for the 26 years from 1990 to 2016. At 460 tonne CO2/GWh, that’s a saving of 1,435.2 million tonne of CO2

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