Transport and households push UK CO2 emissions up

With a double-digit surge since 1990, CO2 emissions from transport and private households are putting the UK off track in its attempts to meet its Kyoto reduction targets. By contrast, the power sector appears as a champion with a decrease of over 15%.

Provisional estimates in a report by the UK Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) on 31 March point to mixed results regarding the country’s ability to fulfil its commitments on climate change.

According to the report, overall emissions in the UK are currently 4% below 1990 levels, well above the 12.5% target it has agreed to as part of EU commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol.

CO2 emissions have even been on the increase over the past two years, rising by 2.2% in 2003 and 1.5% in 2004. 

But highlights in the report show not all the usual suspects are to bear the same responsibility: 

  • between 1990 and 2004, CO2 emissions from households rose by 12.5% due to continued burning of fossil fuels;
  • over the same period, emissions form the transport sector rose by 10% due to an increase in road traffic, mainly freight;
  • however, between 1990 and 2004, CO2 emissions from power stations have decreased by 15.5% thanks to better energy-efficiency and changes in the fuel mix;
  • emissions from industry outside power stations have increased by 1% since 1990 and have risen by 4.5% between 2003 and 2004

Green campaigners at Friends of the Earth UK warned that the UK is "now dangerously close to exceeding its Kyoto target". The group says that the government now "need to introduce a radical new climate change programme to reverse this trend and achieve a 16% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions between now and 2010". 

While recognising the key role business has to play in keeping the UK on track to meet its Kyoto target, the Confederation of British Industry said it is also "vital that the government's leadership on climate change also includes action by individuals at home and by major economies overseas". Saying current policies would at best achieve half of the UK target for 2050, CBI argues for the government to promote new technologies and show "serious political will when it comes to addressing difficult questions like the future role for nuclear".

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has committed to reduce its overall emissions of greenhouse gases by 8% compared to 1990 levels. The UK's share of the total EU burden has been calculated to amount to 12.5% in emissions reduction. 

The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has gone further than this by setting a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% in 2010. A white paper on energy published in February 2003 set out the ambitious long-term goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said he would make climate change one of the UK priorities for the Presidency of the EU during the second half of 2005. But the country is currently embroiled in a legal row with the Commission over the levels of CO2 it wishes to allow industry to emit under the EU emissions trading scheme (see EURACTIV, 14 March 2005).

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