A new analysis by Carbon Brief has revealed that UK CO2 emissions have hit levels last seen in 1890 after emissions fell by 2.6% in 2017 driven by a 19% decline in national coal use.
The UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) updated its energy use figures recently, allowing Carbon Brief to provide an early analysis of the country’s CO2 emissions levels. Accordingly, CO2 emissions fell by 2.6% in 2017 due to a 19% decline in coal use. This might sound impressive, but it’s nothing when compared to the 5.8% decrease in emissions seen last year, which was due in part to a 52% drop in coal use.
According to Carbon Brief, the source of the UK’s reductions in CO2 emissions last year was due in part to continued declining coal and natural gas use. Oil and petroleum usage both increased slightly in 2017, but not enough to counteract the declines in CO2 linked to other fuels.
Change in estimated UK CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by source, 2012-2017
As can be seen from the chart above, and as highlighted by Carbon Brief‘s Zeke Hausfather, “While the fall in coal use in 2017 was much smaller than that in 2016, it is clear that the large decline in coal use in recent years was not a temporary phenomenon.” Specifically, coal now accounts for only 5.3% of total primary energy consumed in the UK, down from 22% in 1995, and on its way to fulfilling the government’s promise to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025.
The highlight from Carbon Brief‘s story was the realization that, “with coal quickly disappearing in the UK and other fossil fuel use mostly flat,” emissions have continued to decline and are now as low as they were in 1890 (with the exception of miner strikes in 1893 and 1921 and the 1926 general strike).
UK CO2 emissions 1858-2017
Of course, everything is relative. There is still a lot of work to be done for the UK to meet its national target of reducing emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, which currently sit at around 38% below 1990 levels.