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How has the U.K cut its greenhouse gas emissions faster than any other country?

Since 1990, the U.K. has cut its Greenhouse gas emissions faster than any other rich country. All thanks to enormous efforts in decarbonising their energy supply. However, there will be vast challenges if Britain wishes to reach net-zero. Though emissions have been plummeting, the country needs to manage its carbon footprints from transport and heat. These are the two notorious challenging sectors to overhaul.

According to statistics released by the Department of BEIS, Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. have been cut faster by an impressive 44%. When compared, the emissions put out by developed countries like the U.S., Australia, and Japan remain unchanged. However, countries like Germany have taken more significant steps and are now down 29%.

Factors in Reducing GHG Emissions in the U.K.

In 2017, CO2 emissions reduction came from the use of green energy. In the U.K., 37% of the CO2 reduction was due to renewable sources in the form of solar energy, bioenergy, and wind energy. Another major factor was 33% lower electricity usage. According to a report, since 1994, the electricity in the U.K. in 2018 was the lowest. This is due to an increase in an environmentally conscious and energy-efficient society. Also, in the Summer of 2018, the U.K. experienced a day without coal-fired power.

During the summer pandemic of 2020, the country didn’t burn coal to generate electricity for a couple of months. In fact, this was the first time in 138 years. However, it started long before that when the Thatcher administration pushed for pro-gas policies to further political agency against the coal miners in the 80s. This resulted in the country's electricity supply moving to gas, which is one of the better fossil fuels, producing half the carbon emissions of coal.

A later UK government proposed anti-coal carbon taxes that made coal uncompetitive. It moreover minimised its dependence on the worst fossil fuel to only 2%. However, thanks to wind and more notably, solar, plummeting prices are such that electricity generation costs 177% less than electricity generated by the new coal plant. In fact, it's almost inevitable that the energy mix of the U.K. will only get cleaner.

According to an Economist report, “Britain’s success in decarbonising its grid has not yet translated into progress in these other areas.” “Zero-carbon electricity is an end in itself, but also a necessary first step to decarbonising other parts of the economy, such as heating and transport. For example, heat pumps must replace gas boilers; electric motors must replace internal combustion engines.”

If there is no action on cleaning up emissions from transport and heat, there is little hope for the country to reach net zero. On the other hand, transport represents the biggest source of emissions in industry, with buildings coming up second. The main reason why they pose a big hurdle is that tackling the footprint of transport and heat will need enormous overhauls from changing the construction of homes and boilers with more effective insulation, to making a mass switch to electric cars. Moreover, there need to be enough charging stations to operate them. It would be expensive and lengthy.

However, the way the U.K. proposes to manage the decarbonisation of its economy is unclear. But the upcoming international climate change COP26 conference in Glasgow in November will be a major moment. Because it comes amid the ongoing pandemic, it offers an opportunity for governments to reconsider and reverse emission trends, especially as they seek to recreate and restructure their economies sustainably.

To sum up

There are plenty of ways in which households can reduce GHG emissions in the U.K. To prevent global warming over 1.5 degrees, it is important to leave around 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. Besides this, it is important to lower your meat intake, buy energy-efficient appliances, invest in double-glazed windows, and invest in renewable energy. If you want to know more about the topic, stay tuned to the Traktual Green Transport Blog.

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