Damning statistics

11th April 2013

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Generation ,
  • Conventional



Paul Suff reflects on what the latest statistics on the UK's carbon footprint and energy production reveal about how far away the reality of a low-carbon economy is

Preliminary figures from Decc show that UK greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions were 3.5% higher in 2012 than in 2011, and CO2 emissions, which account for more than 80% of the country’s overall GHG output, were 4.5% higher.

Coal is largely responsible for the increase. The latest energy statistics, also from Decc, reveal that electricity generators, attracted by its low price, simply burned more coal than gas. Total demand for coal in 2012 was 64 million tonnes, more than 24% up on 2011 levels, while consumption by power companies was 31% higher.

The rises recorded in 2012 reverse a long-term trend that has seen UK emissions fall almost every year since 1990 – the baseline for major GHGs like CO2. So, are the 2012 figures just another of the occasional blips experienced over the past two decades as UK edges towards a low-carbon economy?

The answer to that question is probably yes, with many of the UK’s older coal-fired power stations, which are due to close by 2016, taking advantage of cheap fuel – the price they paid for coal in 2012 was 17% down on 2011 levels.

But whether the increase in emissions is a temporary deviation or not is neither here nor there when it comes to climate change. The CO2 pumped into the atmosphere last year will remain there for many years and affect the climate over the next few decades and beyond, leading to extreme weather events, including floods, droughts and storms, occurring more frequently.

The government’s outgoing chief scientific officer, John Beddington, recently told the BBC that weather patterns over the “next 20 or 30 years are going to be determined by what’s up there now”.

Decc’s GHG data refer only to emissions produced in the UK, not the emissions from all the goods and services we consume in the UK. Like most major developed countries, the UK is a net importer of embodied carbon emissions.

The latest figures from the office for national statistics (ONS) suggest that such emissions may also be rising. ONS calculates that the UK deficit on traded goods – transactions in general merchandise; goods for processing and those procured in ports by carriers; repairs on goods; and non-monetary gold – in 2012 was £106.3 billion, the highest on record.

Mark Twain famously said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Unfortunately, the latest data on emissions, energy consumption and the trade deficit are not falsehoods and reveal just how far we still need to go to decarbonise the UK economy.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

EU and UK citizens fear net-zero delivery deficit

Support for net zero remains high across the UK and the EU, but the majority of citizens don't believe that major emitters and governments will reach their climate targets in time.

16th May 2024

Read more

There is strong support for renewable energy as a source of economic growth among UK voters, particularly among those intending to switch their support for a political party.

16th May 2024

Read more

Taxing the extraction of fossil fuels in the world’s most advanced economies could raise $720bn (£575bn) by 2030 to support vulnerable countries facing climate damages, analysis has found.

2nd May 2024

Read more

The largest-ever research initiative of its kind has been launched this week to establish a benchmark for the private sector’s contribution to the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

2nd May 2024

Read more

Weather-related damage to homes and businesses saw insurance claims hit a record high in the UK last year following a succession of storms.

18th April 2024

Read more

The Scottish government has today conceded that its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 is now “out of reach” following analysis by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

18th April 2024

Read more

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close