Forget Germany – UK is Greening Fast

March 26, 2018

The UK now has the lowest carbon emissions since the 90s.
The 1890s.

Financial Times:

Declining coal use has pushed UK carbon emissions to levels last consistently seen in 1890, highlighting the country’s progress in cutting greenhouse gases faster than most other developed economies. Emissions fell by 2.6 per cent in 2017, driven by a nearly one-fifth reduction in the use of coal as the energy industry shifts towards cleaner sources of electricity generation, especially wind and solar power.

The data marked the fifth successive year in which the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into UK skies has fallen, and emissions are now 38 per cent below the level of 1990. “With coal quickly disappearing in the UK and other fossil fuel use mostly flat, emissions have continued their steady decline,” said Zeke Hausfather, author of the report by Carbon Brief, a climate research and news organisation, which based its findings on the latest UK government data.

“Overall, CO2 emissions have declined faster in the UK since the early 1990s than in almost any other large economy.” Emissions were lower for brief periods during strikes in the 1920s and in 1893 but last year’s CO2 output was the lowest in a year of normal economic activity since 1890, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, the Forth Bridge was opened in Scotland, and the first official county cricket match was played between Yorkshire and Gloucestershire.

The emissions data were extrapolated from measurements of UK energy use that stretch back to Victorian times. Having relied on coal to propel its industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, the UK has shifted away from the fuel faster than most countries in pursuit of a government target to phase out the last coal-fired power stations by 2025.



More than half of the electricity generated in the UK in 2017 came from low-carbon sources for the first time ever, new analysis has concluded.

Renewables and nuclear provided more electricity than all fossil fuels combined, with wind generation alone supplying twice as much energy as coal, according to analysis by Carbon Brief, a website that tracks climate change and energy policy.

It found that wind made a greater contribution to the country’s electricity needs than coal in every month apart from January. The share from low-carbon sources doubled between 2008 and 2017, Carbon Brief said. Much of this was due to a greatly reduced amount of coal power as older plants have reached the end of their lives.

Carbon Brief:

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. Coal now accounts for only 5.3% of total primary energy consumed in the UK, down from 22% in 1995. The UK government has pledged to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025.

The slight decrease in natural gas use in 2017 was largely related to a milder winter and does not show up in temperature-adjusted versions of the BEIS data that try to normalise for year-over-year changes in weather condition.

Reductions in coal use has driven most of the carbon reductions in recent years, though reductions in gas use were a larger driver earlier in the decade. The figure below shows how much each fuel has contributed to the overall decline in total CO2 emissions from fossil fuels since 2009.



33 Responses to “Forget Germany – UK is Greening Fast”

  1. I am wondering how much of that reduction in coal use is due to the export of heavy manufacturing to emerging economies, as the US has exported much of it’s carbon emissions to China and elsewhere?

    • leslie graham Says:

      We don’t have any heavy manufacturing.
      The Thatcher government killed it off in the 80’s to smash the unions.
      What we do have is a big increase in renewables. Nothing like enough of course but it’s better than nothing.
      Scotland is on track for being 100% renewables in just a couple more years – she has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of renewable energy’ and the good thing about wind and wave power is that the English can’t steal it this time.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      “So, has the U.K. simply moved its emissions to China by closing down the Sheffield steel plants and buying imported steel? Not quite — its overall emissions based on import consumption are down as well. (Though it’s true that the country’s traditional manufacturing sector has taken a hit, as you would know if you’ve seen The Full Monty.)”

      Mind the Gap, Grist Briefly, March 29,2018

  2. redskylite Says:

    I am wondering how much of the reduction in coal use is due to the considerable investment in Wind Power which has increased from 5,357 GW-h (1.50% in 2008, to 32,617 GW-h (15%) in 3 qtrs of 2017). Quite a few times I’ve read that power from wind has exceeded records in the U.K and especially in Scotland, where it exceeds 100% supply of households occasionally. The U.K is well placed to exploit wind.

    The United Kingdom is one of the best locations for wind power in the world and is considered to be the best in Europe. Wind power contributed 11% of UK electricity generation in 2015 and 17% in December 2015. Allowing for the costs of pollution, particularly the carbon emissions of other forms of production, onshore wind power is the cheapest form of energy in the United Kingdom. In 2016, the UK generated more electricity from wind power than from coal.

    • redskylite Says:

      Initially I was worried that the U.K might slack off in the buzz of BREXIT, but it seems it is still forging ahead. Heavy Industry covers a multitude of activities, but most are no longer dependent on coal.

      North England looks to the wind to power growth after Brexit

      By early next decade, local developers here plan to turn this 1.6-square-kilometer strip of wasteland into a hub for Britain’s fast-growing offshore energy industry.

      That includes building on the northeast of England’s seafaring and ship-building heritage, as well as attracting new investment. Blyth, which lies just north of Newcastle, became home to Britain’s first offshore wind farm almost 20 years ago and has seen companies like EDF Energy Renewables set up shop since then.

      As Britain looks to its future outside of the European Union, many in the industry see an opportunity — and exporting potential — in the country’s global expertise in generating electricity from its gusty shoreline.

  3. redskylite Says:

    Dont forget the U.K has the world largest off-shore wind farm in the London Array and the second largest in Europe onshore wind farm in the Whitelee Wind Farm. It also has some mammoth farms under construction.

  4. leslie graham Says:

    It’s been estimated that the potentially exploitable wind energy in Scotland – mainly off-shore on the west coast – would be sufficient to provide 12 times the current electricity needs of Scotland, England and Wales.
    There is also a good chance that Scotland will cast England adrift and rejoin the EU.
    Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe but as usual we get what England votes for.

  5. dumboldguy Says:

    Tell us again how technology is going to save us?

    “Experts warn smartphones will contribute to 125 MEGATONS of emissions by 2020

    The contribution of information and computer technologies, including smartphones and laptops, to our global carbon footprint, is expected to grow from about 1% in 2007 to 3.5% by 2020 and reach 14% by 2040. Professor Lofti Belkhir, one of the study’s authors, suggests that this shatters “the hope that ICT will help reduce the global carbon footprint by substituting physical activities with their virtual counterparts”. The research was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production”.

    • redskylite Says:

      I will not read from the newspaper that tries to convince us that global warming has ended after each time an El Nino record temperature peak is reached, and seems to be impressed with the confounded GWPF organization, and Judith Curry. Also the Daily Mails point seems a bit off topic as the aim I believe was to draw attention to the U.K’s recent successes, rather than to obfuscate with the excess of Global smartphone technology. I do not own a smartphone and have no urge to buy one.

      I had British parents and left my home country in the mid 80’s, when Thatcher was dismantling many of the great British manufacturers, and killing any spirit left in the workforce. I do sympathize with Scotland’s predicament also.

      But I do see some attempt to advance with the latest reforestation plan and growth in non-carbon power producing technologies. They are ideally placed in the Trade Winds and still enjoy the benefits of the Gulf Stream in controlling the climate of the South West.

      At least they are trying and making advances, instead of rolling over on their backs and giving up.

      “The plan is for 50 million new trees to repopulate one of the least wooded parts of the country—and offer a natural escape from several cities in the north.”

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I can appreciate your disdain for the Daily Mail. Would you read the original? Maybe you can find some discrepancy between the original and the Mail reprint, like with the 125 megatonns?

        • redskylite Says:

          Thanks for that sobering article, and yes indeed more problems for the future. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I do not see why “smartphones” are so popular and indispensable. I have only just got a Navigation system in a car, and begrudgingly acknowledge they save pulling over and getting out maps, and are useful. If we put the same enthusiasm for getting the latest gadgets into cutting out GHG’s we would soon be onto a workable target.

          • otter17 Says:

            I personally reverted from one of the early Android smart phones to a standard cell phone and since then have been going through a couple retired phones from the friends/family. I even repaired my current slide-style cell phone ribbon connector for the cost of a $5 replacement part. That was a fun little project, and the battery charge is still going strong on what is I’m guessing a >10yr old phone.

            That being said, the millennial and engineer in me sees some great utility and advancements in efficiency for smart phones going forward. With the right incentives towards efficiency (carbon tax or whatever is chosen), the manufacturers and consumers can possibly move away from some grossly irresponsible environmental practices and clean up much of that industry GHG load. Smart phones are basically designed around being virtually un-repairable.
            Even the freaking battery can’t be removed without specialized tools. They are designed around a lifetimes of about 2-3 years maybe less now at Apple. I don’t recall any of the major manufacturers designing around re-use or recycling retired phone materials. Combine that with marketing and consumers demanding a yearly update cycle, and we have a massive industry revolving around producing and junking material/energy about as fast as possible, all in the name of devices that can have substantial side effects on our mental health. The current model makes a lot of money and stock value, though. No doubt, that has to change with something substantial to incentivize that change.

            So, the good parts being the platform that can transmit, receive, and process information. The platform also allows for great creativity in solving the same problems of energy efficiency and emissions. Ride sharing is improving and providing possible options to more efficiently use vehicles. Many younger people in the 1st world are starting to consider eschewing personal automobile ownership, for substantially more efficient transportation arrangements. Information and tasks can possibly be done without transportation and very little comparable energy consumption. Energy consumption apps are proven ways to enhance behavior towards energy efficiency in a competitive game theory style. The main limits are our collective creativity and motivation towards the goal of GHG reductions overall.

            Humanity has had a relatively short time to gain wisdom in the application of many technologies this past century or so, fossil fuels, nuclear power/weapons, and large scale computing/AI. Add smart phones to that list of necessary learning experiences to address.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      ““Experts warn smartphones will contribute to 125 MEGATONS of emissions by 2020”

      Yeah, don’t you just get sick and tired of pouring the kerosene into your cellphone two or three times a day, fumbling around with your flint and Bowie knife to strike that spark to get it going again, and then burning yourself five times a day on the red-hot chimney? I know I am fed up with it.

      Strangely enough, I have the new iPhone XXXVII. It runs, luckily enough, on this new stuff called “electricity”. And when we finally build our new carbon-free energy system, we won’t have to worry about ascribing megatons of CO2 emissions to our electronic devices.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Yes—–when we FINALLY stop using carbon-based fuels and power everything with electricity, all will be well.

        Please tell us when that will happen? in the DEVELOPED world, that is? Then tell us when that will happen in the parts of the world that have no electricity at all, and are still thinking of making the “great leap forward” by using coal-fired plants to generate it?

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          “Then tell us when that will happen in the parts of the world that have no electricity at all…”

          We will have millions and millions of kerosene-fired cell phones to send to them at least. They can use them to call for Chinese food and more kerosene.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, and that kerosene will be made from fracked oil wells in poor rural neighborhoods, refined in poor urban neighborhoods, and finally shipped in trains that wreck and blow up, providing employment—–for first responders and health professionals all along the chain.

            And I hear that Trump and Pruitt are pushing for coal-fired cell phones—-it’s Sooooo clean!

    • Sir Charles Says:

      “125 MEGATONS of emissions by 2020”

      Megatons of what? Printing shite is also emissions.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        If Sir Chucky would bother to read anything posted here instead of just sitting and admiring his own imagined brilliance like a demented rooster, he might find that the title of the first linked Daily Mail article is:

        “How smartphones are heating up the planet: Experts warn the devices will contribute to 125 MEGATONS of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020”.

        And linking back to the original article, Chucky would find that the author speaks in terms of “CO2 equivalents”.

        “In absolute values, emissions caused by smartphones will jump from 17 to 125 megatons of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) in that time span, or a 730 per cent growth”.

        Why does Chucky waste our time with his “cuteness” and ego-tripping rather than contributing to the discussion?

        • Sir Charles Says:

          I like your commitment, dumbo. In particular when you realise how it feels when someone makes a cannonball 🙂

          • dumboldguy Says:

            More cuteness from Chucky—-why spend time making substantive comments that contribute to the discussion when you can feed your ego by being stupid and feebly attacking your betters?

            Cannonball? Yep, Chucky is always “cannonballing” into the cesspool of narcissism and spraying everyone with “shite”. Stand back, all.

  6. bbenfulton Says:

    What do British coal miners think about it?

    • redskylite Says:

      I don’t know, what did they think of Thatcher in the 80’s?, I supported them then with part of my salary and collected food and toys for their families. Sadly they will have to find re-employment, hopefully in a healthier environment. Our planet cannot afford coal any more.

    • leslie graham Says:

      What? Both of them?

      Thatcher deliberately set out to destroy the coal industry in the 80’s in an act of spite and to reduce union power before going on to roll back all the rights and benefits won after the war.
      There is not a single deep coal mine left in the UK today.

      There are a few open cast mines left which are mainly automated and their products go towards plastics and road surfacing.

      It’s tough but any remaining miners – I think the figure is down to about 2000 – will just have to get proper jobs. Ones that don’t kill millions of people.

  7. redskylite Says:

    Here is an interesting recent piece in the Guardian by Dr John Abraham (a professor of thermal sciences, who researches climate monitoring and renewable energy generation for the developing world) on what Wind and Solar could do for the U.S of A.

    Study: wind and solar can power most of the United States

    “This study considered only wind and solar. If other sources, such as hydroelectricity, biofuels, or even nuclear power were added, it would be relatively straightforward to reach 100% clean energy. Furthermore, people are learning to use energy more wisely, either by using more efficient products or purchasing electricity during off-peak hours. These behavioral changes can also help us reach a 100% clean energy target.

    The point is, the use of clean energy to power an entire country (or a group of countries) is achievable. It’s no longer viable to say “we can’t.””

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I don’t think the problem has been saying “we can’t” as much as the powers that be saying “we won’t” because it impacts their bottom line negatively, especially re: stranded assets for fossil fuel companies.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        But the way they’ve been hiding the “we won’t” is by saying over and over and over “we can’t”, including by use of internet trolls. The more times and different ways it’s shown to people still swayed by facts, that we can, the more the lunacy and self-interest of the “we won’t” people is exposed.

  8. Sir Charles Says:

    The graph above only shows CO2 emissions and no methane emissions! Methane is a greenhouse gas which has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) up to 100 times as bad as CO2. Instead on coal, England is counting on fracking for shale gas now, whereby the government is omitting to acknowledge that fracked shale gas has a worse carbon footprint than coal.

  9. J4Zonian Says:

    The always-excellent David Roberts has put up a more detailed look at the Shell game, but he still doesn’t mention most of the most basic assumptions behind it.
    We need to make those assumptions explicit; that’s the first step toward keeping them from destroying civilization and wiping out most life on Earth.

    This scenario, and as Roberts makes clear, almost all others, assume the following:

    Continuation of overall BAU–Capitalism as the driving force of civilization and thus acceptance of the market religion above all else, as well as the resulting minimum of government action beyond what we’ve seen. IOW, NO climate mobilization and no revamping of our relationships and psychology, the only ways we’re going to save our asses from climate catastrophe AND the larger psycho-ecological crisis. They assume continued drivers will be “consumers” rather than government action. But both long tails of possibility are government-driven and the middle ground is vanishingly small. If we don’t follow a rational government-driven climate mobilization on the model of the Roosevelts’ WWII mobilization, the only likely result is collapse leading to fascism leading to more collapse.

    There’s no mention of the necessary transformation of chemical industrial agriculture. IOW, an assumption that the current (gosh, coincidentally corporate-profiting) methods will continue. This is a fatal mistake.

    The one assumption that is being discussed is that CCS will be a major part of the solution, yet another part of the assumption that leaves out permaculture, 1 of only 2 proven methods to achieve negative emissions. The reason this assumption is common to almost all scenarios is that they’re unwilling to even speculate about the more revolutionary economic, political and psychological changes that are really our only hope of surviving. Denial runs deep and broad in our society.

    An assumption, probably correct once you accept their other assumptions, is that 2070 is the fastest we can do this, and that even then there will be considerable use of fossil fuels. It ignores the increasing harm climate change will do, and the inevitable interference with mitigation caused by constant weather, socio-political and other disasters and forced adaptation. It assumes, probably also correctly, that people in the rich countries, especially the US, are perfectly happy to trade hundreds of millions of lives of poor dark people for the comfort and increasing autocratic rule of the rich.

    As a result of this and other assumptions, they assume continued increase in energy use, rather than addressing the 85% of energy the US wastes (and most of the rest as well, wasted on bads and disservices that take away from the generally low-energy true goods and disservices an economy can provide. There never seems to be an adjustment to the reality that the US military no longer needs to protect the profits of oil corporations by invading oil-rich countries, or that we need to eat less meat, for example.

    And PS, the more I hear it, the more clever I think the name of the scenario is; captures attention better than A1THS and all the other too-similar scenario names. People are likely to forget all the details (and never know the assumptions) but remember Shell, and Sky, and what everybody’s saying, that it’s new because it actually recognizes the reality that we have to use less fossil fuel. Wow. What a low bar we’re accepting now.

    • otter17 Says:

      Yeah, well put. The fossil fuel company solutions tend to mimic their science opposition stances. The solutions favor their interests while ignoring the external costs and damages for which everybody else cleans up or adapts. It is still anti-science to propose a solution that favors an industry, but doesn’t follow the recommended GHG reduction rates from science orgs.

  10. redskylite Says:

    “The UK Government’s new statistics also highlight the impressive increase in renewable energy generation. The BEIS concluded that low-carbon generation — including wind, solar, hydro, bioenergy, and nuclear — accounted for around 50% of electricity generation in 2017. Specifically, wind and solar generation overtook nuclear generation in the fourth quarter of 2017 to be the country’s second highest source of electricity for the first time, thanks to increased capacity and higher wind speeds.”

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