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How far have we come since 1990 on carbon targets?

by Mel Starrs on January 24, 2011

in Accreditation, Funding & Targets

Several people over the past few weeks have asked me if I know how we’ve (the UK) done against our targets of reducing carbon against the 1990 baseline.

Off the top of my head, I didn’t know. But I knew where to look. The DECC site has lots of statistics, including 2008 Final Greenhouse Gas Emissions (statistics are always a bit behind – there are some provisional numbers for 2009 available, but for now I’ll stick to final results):

In 2008, UK emissions of the basket of six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol were estimated to be 628.3 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). This was 1.9 per cent lower than the 2007 figure of 640.5 million tonnes. There were decreases in emissions of 2.9 per cent (6.5 MtCO2e) from the energy supply sector, 3.0 per cent (4.1 MtCO2e) from the transport sector, 2.6 per cent (2.6 MtCO2e) from the business sector, and 7.3 per cent (1.3 MtCO2e) from industrial processes. There was, however, an increase in emissions from the residential sector of 3.1 per cent (2.5 MtCO2e).

In fact I think I’m sure I linked to this data when it came out. But what does this mean against our 1990 baseline?

The graph shows both greenhouse gases and carbon. Satisfyingly, it is heading downwards. But is the trajectory enough? (BTW, aviation and shipping not included in these figures – they are accounted seperately and have their own targets).

The UK is commited to a national goal of cutting carbon emissions by 34 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels and 80 percent by 2050.

Carbon is an issue which is eternally complicated by fuel factors and their tendency to change:

The UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory is reviewed every year, and the whole historical data series is revised to incorporate methodological improvements and new data. This takes into account revisions to the datasets which have been used in its compilation, most notably the UK energy statistics published in the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES). It is therefore not appropriate to compare the Inventory from one year with that from another. However, the latest Inventory represents a single consistent data series going back to 1990, and this therefore allows year-on-year comparisons to be made.

Things are complicated further:

Like the Kyoto Protocol, the [Climate Change] Act uses a base year which is comprised of 1990 for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and 1995 for fluorinated compounds. However, this base year figure differs from that used for reporting against the Kyoto Protocol in that it was derived from the 2007 greenhouse gas inventory, which incorporated a number of revisions made subsequent to the UK’s Kyoto Protocol assigned amount having been fixed.

Confused yet? Let’s skip to the end and see how well we’re doing:

UK performance against emissions reduction targets
Performance measured against targets, incorporating the net EU ETS trading position where appropriate, can be summarised as follows:
• UK emissions of the basket of six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol were 22.0 per cent lower in 2008 than in the base year, down from 779.9 to 608.4 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent.
• For the purposes of carbon budgets reporting, UK greenhouse gas emissions were also 22.0 per cent lower in 2008 than in the base year, down from 777.4 to 606.7 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent.
• UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were 13.5 per cent lower in 2008 than in 1990, down from 592.8 to 512.9 million tonnes.
• Although not specifically covered by a separate target, since 1990, emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, the other two major greenhouse gases, have fallen by 53 per cent and 48 per cent respectively. Emissions of the fluorinated compounds have fallen by 12 per cent since 1990 and by 29 per cent since 1995.

So we’re doing OK, but probably not good enough. And the answer to the questions I was asked? 22% or 13.5% depending on which target they were talking about in the first place. Confusing, isn’t it?