After a decline of more than thirty years, UK carbon dioxide emissions are back to the level of 1879, according to an analysis by an expert site. Carbon Brief. This was the year Thomas Edison applied for a patent on the light bulb in England and drove a (horse-drawn) streetcar for the first time in Utrecht. How did the British get this far? How are they doing with regard to the Netherlands and the European Union?
Britain is twice the distance the Netherlands is
- Emissions in Britain have fallen at twice the rate of Dutch emissions since 1990
- The average British emits half the carbon dioxide that a Dutch person emits
- The United Kingdom has nearly twice the renewable energy that the Netherlands does
The UK has the same ultimate goal as the European Union: to be completely climate neutral by 2050. But last year, the British chose a more ambitious intermediate target for 2030: their emissions should be 68 per cent below the 1990 level, rather than the European Amounting to 55 percent.
However, they will have less difficulty achieving their more ambitious 2030 goal.
UK greenhouse gas emissions were 51 per cent lower than 1990 levels last year, and our 24.5 per cent lower. The picture also remains true in absolute numbers: the average British emits 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while the Dutch emits twice that number. The EU average is somewhere in between.
It is remarkable that the UK, as a rich industrialized country, is now exactly on the global average. Thus, the emissions of the average Briton are also lower than those of the average Chinese (but still three times higher than the emissions of the average Indian).
The coal era began and ended in the United Kingdom
You could say that the British come from afar. Coal mining in England and Wales was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. The peak of UK carbon dioxide emissions came later, in 1973. Even then, the British economy was still heavily dependent on coal.
it has been a long time. The UK’s last coal-fired power plant is slated to close in 2024 – six years before it closes in the Netherlands.
The remaining coal-fired power plants are almost no longer needed: coal last year provided only 1.6 per cent of the UK’s electricity. This is partly due to the exceptionally low gas prices in 2020, which means that we are also burning less coal in the Netherlands.
Left and right reservoirs are continuing politics
Not windmills or nuclear power plants, but consistency is the secret of the British climate. Margaret Thatcher was still in power in 1990, after which the right-wing and left-wing governments succeeded in taking office. If you look at the graph of carbon dioxide, it doesn’t actually make any difference – it shows a steady decline, accelerated vigorously, especially since 2008.
The Netherlands, by contrast: Our CO2 emissions were still at 1990 levels through 2018. We had already reduced “other greenhouse gases”, such as methane and nitrous oxide, but the British were doing it at the same time.
UK carbon dioxide emissions have returned to the level of 1879. The black line shows the sharp decline in coal use since 1973.
2020 was a turning point for British green electricity
The assertions have shifted in British climate policy. Initially, the profit was made by treating energy waste and partially switching from coal to gas-fired power plants.
Renewable energy is now driving the transition, and the use of oil and gas is declining. Last year in the UK, for the first time, more electricity was generated from renewable energy than from fossil fuels. In the Netherlands, renewable energy provided a quarter of the electricity (11 percent of total energy demand).
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