UK carbon emissions fall as coal use declines

By Gem Childe on 6th Mar 2017


The reduction would leave CO2 emissions 36 per cent below 1990 levels. However, the drop in coal use in 2016 was partially offset by increased emissions from oil (up 1.6%) and gas (up 12.5%).

The findings were based on an analysis of Department of Energy, Business and Industrial Strategy figures. The department will publish its own CO2 estimates on March 30.

Perhaps the most consequential factor in the drop in coal use, according to Carbon Brief, was the top-up carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 per tonne of CO2.

On Wednesday, chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget is expected to set out the future path of the tax, which will have wide-ranging reverberations on the energy sector. The steel industry has long lobbied against the tax, despite being shielded from 85 per cent of its cost.

Last year, three coal-fired power stations closed in the UK and shifting wholesale energy prices hit coal use across Europe. As a result, UK windfarms generated more power than coal in 2016, even though wind output declined slightly compared with the very windy 2015.

While CO2 emissions from coal collapsed, CO2 from gas increased by 12.5 per cent in 2016, according to Carbon Brief, as electric utilities switched from burning coal. However, gas use remained well below the highs seen in the 2000s.

Gas use for home and business heating has been falling for a decade, as more buildings are insulated and more-efficient boilers are installed.

CO2 emissions from oil rose slightly for the second year running. Low oil prices and economic growth meant that more miles were driven in the UK.

Since 2010, drivers have benefitted from an effective tax cut worth £4.5bn a year. The government has not raised fuel duty in line with inflation and has cancelled a string of planned increases.