British CO2 Emissions Fall to Lowest Level Since 1890
And it’s all because we’ve said goodbye to coal.
Oh, 19th century. 2018 owes you so much.
Witty memes would be so dreary if Oscar Wilde hadn’t been so darn quotable. Without the ego of Richard Wagner, Kanye West wouldn’t revere himself as a godlike genius (and where’s the fun in that?). What’s more, despite two pesky industrial revolutions, there wasn’t much of a climate change problem back then either.
There’s not a lot we can do about Kanye. But Britain is certainly taking lessons on greenhouse gas emissions, as UK carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have fallen to their lowest since 1890.
Britain’s CO2 emissions fell 2.6% in 2017 to 388 million tons, according to climate science website Carbon Brief. It follows a 5.8% drop the previous year. Now, CO2 emissions are 38% below 1990 levels — and the lowest they’ve been in 128 years.
And it’s due, in large part, to Britain’s major cutbacks on coal. Go, graphs!
The British government has promised to close all coal power stations by 2025. As a result, two more coal plants are set to close this year, leaving just six stations left across the country — a direct consequence of the UK carbon tax, the lower price of gas, and coal consumption falling every single year since 2012.
Now, coal produces just 5.3% of primary energy in the UK. In 1995, it accounted for 22%.
There’s a lot to celebrate. For the first time ever, the UK went 55 hours without burning coal in April, before smashing the record again to 76 hours a few days later. Instead, wind turbines rose to the occasion — after historically outpowering coal over the whole of 2016. More graphs, please!
The UK set a new record of 54 hours and 50mins without #coal fired generation in the UK electricity mix this week https://t.co/knjFLPms2p Expect more records to be broken this summer as coal continues its rapid decline https://t.co/pQdDnipSJ0pic.twitter.com/hgTP4eEJF5— Carbon Tracker (@CarbonBubble) April 19, 2018
However, there’s still a long way to go. The British government may very well be phasing out coal — production fell by a record 27% in 2017 — but the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reported in April that over 70% of energy consumption still lies in oil and gas.
And experts say that the reduction in coal is being replaced more by gas — another fossil fuel — than renewable energy sources. Indeed, wind power only generated more electricity than gas on just two days last year.
According to the 2008 Climate Change Act, Britain must ensure that it lowers its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050. Carbon Brief has calculated that the UK has already cut CO2 emissions by 38% since 1990, but we need to shave another 68% off today’s total to meet the goal.
Then, of course, there’s the Paris climate agreement — a global pact to keep the planet’s temperature “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. To meet the ambitious targets set out in the accord, some are urging the British government to aim to be carbon neutral.
“The science is clear: in order to halt climate change, we have to move to net zero emissions,” Professor Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, told the Independent. “So although the UK Climate Change Act was groundbreaking in its day, its existing 80% target now looks somewhat inadequate; other nations have already set net zero targets in line with the Paris accord, and the UK should logically adopt one too.”
So let’s party like it’s 1890. But when we get up in the morning, there’s a whole lot of work to do.
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