UK decouples GDP and GHGs

4th May 2017

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  • Carbon Trading


Jessica Fleming

The UK has been more successful than other high-income nations in decoupling reducing greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth, according to think tank the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit.

It found that in 2014 – the most recent year for which comprehensive figures are available across the G7 – UK per capita GHG emissions had declined 33% since 1992, while per capita GDP had increased by more than 130%. By contrast, in Japan, the worst-performing G7 country, both per capita GDP and GHG emissions increased, by 83% and 10.5% respectively.

ECIU director Richard Black said the findings demolished the argument that action to curb climate change ruined economies. ‘It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm,’ he said. ‘It’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time. Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7 – but we’ve clearly been the best of the bunch.’

However, much of the UK’s success had been down to the country ‘exporting’ emissions, with a greater proportion produced from goods and services consumed in the UK incurred abroad. However, this trend appears to have stopped since the financial crash in 2008.

The ECIU said the proportion of emissions associated with UK consumption that had been ‘outsourced’ had not grown since 2010, with Britain’s per capita ‘imported’ emissions now at almost the same level as in the mid-1990s, despite per capita GDP having more than doubled since.

The UK’s switch to gas-fired electricity generation from coal in the 1990s, better control of methane emissions from landfill, and the introduction of energy-efficiency schemes such as CERT had also helped decouple emissions and growth, said the ECIU. Other reasons highlighted by the report were the shift towards a more service-based economy and, more recently, an increase in renewable energy.

Black also said there were signs that the rest of the world was catching up with the UK: ‘Globally, emissions have been flat for three years while world GDP has grown by 8%.’ He warned that the scale of reductions would not be enough to prevent dangerous climate change, however.


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