After a sharp fall in 2020, the UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases increased by 4.7 per cent in 2021, the biggest annual rise since records started in 1990
UK greenhouse gas emissions saw their biggest annual jump in modern records last year, as covid-19 restrictions were lifted and pollution from traffic soared.
Emissions dropped dramatically in 2020, by 9.5 per cent to 405.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), as limits were imposed on movement and energy demand slumped.
However, figures published today by the UK’s Office for National Statistics show emissions bounced back in 2021 by 4.7 per cent to 424.5 MtCO2e. That is slightly slower growth than the 5.5 per cent global increase in CO2 emissions, and the biggest annual rise in the UK since records started in 1990.
The increase is a blip in the UK’s long-term trend, which has seen emissions almost halve since 1990. In recent years, emissions have only increased twice: in 2010 after the financial crash, and in 2012.
The transport sector overtook energy as the UK’s biggest emitter in 2016, as the country’s coal power phase-out accelerated. Transport now accounts for about a quarter of UK emissions, with the vast majority coming from road vehicles.
While the UK was in lockdown for several months during 2021, restrictions on travel weren’t as stringent as during the first covid-19 lockdown in 2020. Transport emissions increased by 10 per cent last year.
Separately today, a long-running government public attitudes tracker revealed that 80 per cent of people in the UK support onshore wind power, while only 4 per cent oppose it. The UK government has reportedly been discussing planning barriers to the technology in its delayed energy strategy, which is being prepared in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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