FRESH AIR

Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low

Obsession
Energy Shocks
Obsession
Energy Shocks

The last time the UK emitted less carbon dioxide than it did in 2016, most Brits were still traveling by horse and carriage.

Last year, the UK emitted 381 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to an analysis by Carbon Brief. The last time the country spewed less of the greenhouse gas was way back in 1894. (Industrial strikes in 1921 and 1926 also resulted in lower emissions, but for unintended reasons.)

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK’s carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

In 2008, the UK committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80% compared with 1990 levels. In absolute terms, that implies the same emissions as last recorded in 1850, a third below the 2016 result.

To reach such an ambitious goal, the UK’s energy secretary announced in November last year that the country plans to shutter its last coal power plant by 2025. The way things are going, it may not last that long.

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