Since the beginning of SCI Energy Group’s blog series, new
legislation has come into place regarding emission targets. Instead of the
previous 80% reduction target, the UK must now achieve net-zero emissions by
2050. This makes significant, rapid emission reduction even more critical. This
article introduces the main sources of UK CO2 emissions across individual
The Big Picture
In 2018, UK CO2 emissions totalled to roughly 364 million
tonnes. This was 2.4% lower than 2017 and 43.5% lower than 1990. The image
below shows how much each individual sector contributed to the total UK carbon
dioxide emissions in 2018. As can be seen, large emitting sectors include:
energy supply, transport and residential. For this reason, CO2 emission trends
from these sectors are discussed in this article.
1 Shows the percentage contribution toward Total UK
Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Sector (2018)
In 2018, the transport sector accounted for 1/3rd of total
UK CO2 emissions. Since 1990, there has been relatively little change in the
level of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. Historically, transport has
been the second most-emitting sector. However, due to emission reductions in
the energy supply sector, it is now the biggest emitting sector and has been
since 2016. Emission sources include road transport, railways, domestic aviation, shipping, fishing & aircraft support vehicles.
The main source of emissions are petrol and diesel in road transport.
Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) can provide emission
reductions in this sector. Some examples of these include: hybrid electric,
battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In 2018, there were 200,000
ULEV’s on the road in the UK. In addition to this, there was a 53% increase in
ULEV vehicle registration compared to 2016. In 2018, UK government released
the ‘Road to Zero Strategy’, which seeks to see 50% of new cars to be ULEV’s by
2030 and 40% of new vans.
Energy Supply Sector
In the past, the energy supply sector was the biggest
emitting sector but, since 1990, this sector has reduced its greenhouse gas
emissions by 60% making it the second-biggest emitting sector. Between 2017 and
2018, this sector accounted for the largest decrease in CO2 emissions (7.2%). Emission sources included fuel combustion for electricity generation and other energy production sources, The main sources of emission are use of natural gas and coal in power plants.
In 2015, the Carbon Price Floor tax changed from £9/tonne
CO2 emitted to £18/ tonne CO2 emitted. This resulted in a shift from coal to
natural gas use for power generation. There has also been a considerable
growth in low-carbon technologies for power generation. All of these have
contributed to emission reductions in this sector.
Figure 2 – Natural gas power plant
Out of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the
residential sector, CO2 emissions account for 96%. Emissions from this sector
are heavily influenced by external temperatures. For example, colder
temperatures drive higher emissions as more heating is required.
In 2018, this sector accounted for 18% of total UK CO2
emissions. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 2.8% increase in residential
emissions. Overall, emissions from this sector have dropped by 16% since 1990. Emission sources include fuel combustion for heating and cooking, garden machinery and aerosols. The main source of emission are natural gas for heating and cooking.
The UK has reduced CO2 emissions by 43.5% since 1990.
However, further emission reductions are required to meet net-zero targets. The
energy supply sector has reduced emissions by 60% since 1990 but remains the
second biggest emitter. In comparison to this, emission reductions in the
residential sector are minor. Yet, they are still greater than the transport
sector, which has remained relatively static. Each of these sectors require
significant emission reduction to aid in meeting new emission targets.