UK performance on climate change average, study finds

23rd May 2016

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Claims that the UK is ahead of the rest of Europe on climate change policy are a myth, according to analysts at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

The ECIU scrutinised the UK’s performance on a range of metrics including reducing carbon emissions and rolling out clean energy (see table, below).

Assertions that the UK is making more of an effort that other EU member states are usually based on single measures, but this can be misleading as performance can be skewed by factors that have little to do with energy and climate policy, such as a country’s historic energy mix, the unit notes in a report of its findings.

It compared the UK against both the four other economies of a similar scale – France, Italy, Germany and Spain (the ‘big five’) – and with all 28 member states. Overall, the UK’s performance was average, it finds.

The UK’s recent rise in per capita renewable energy generation was higher than many other countries, a factor giving it second place in the big five, and fourth among all EU member states.

But the UK’s performance was ‘broadly average’ on other metrics, such as: carbon emissions per head; recent annual percentage decrease in emissions per head from 2009 to 2014; carbon intensity; and percentage of low-carbon energy in total energy use.

The UK performed badly on renewable energy per capita metric, coming bottom of the big five and 21st among all member states.

UK rankings within ‘big five’ and EU on seven climate and energy measures

Big five position EU28 position Per capita carbon emissions (2014) 4 15

Recent annual percentage per capita emissions decrease (2009-14)

3 8 Annual percentage per capita emissions decrease (1990-2014) 1 8 Carbon intensity (2014) 4 9 Renewable energy capacity per capita (2015) 5 21 Recent annual per capita change in renewable capacity (2013-15) 2 4 Percentage of low carbon energy in total energy use 3 14

The report comes in response to repeated claims that the UK is ‘ahead of the pack’ or ‘going it alone’ on climate change policy compared to other EU member states. The government is due to decide by the end of June how far the UK should go in cutting emissions for the fifth carbon budget period of 2028–32.

The Committee on Climate Change has proposed a 57% cut in emissions for the period compared with 1990 levels. But earlier this month, 15 MPs argued against the adoption of the committee’s recommendations for the fifth carbon budget, claiming that setting the target at this level would mean other EU countries have to do less.

Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst and author of the ECIU report, said: 'Each EU country has a different history – for example, France with its big nuclear sector, the UK with its ‘dash for gas’, the Baltic states emerging from the Soviet Union – so comparing their progress on a single measure can be really misleading.

‘We think this ‘basket’ approach that we’re using here is the basis for a much more realistic comparison. On this basis, the UK is ahead on some measures and behind on others – overall, it’s about average.’

Meanwhile, the RSPB has used new mapping approaches to calculate how much renewable energy generation is possible while avoiding sensitive species and habitats. It has concluded that the UK has the potential to deliver up to four times its current energy consumption from renewable sources with low risk to wildlife.

The transition to renewable energy must be backed by better use of spatial planning to avoid conflicts with nature conservation, and investment in better ecological data, it recommended in a report published today.


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