Carbon emissions are down – but hold the champagne

According to Carbon Brief, last year the UK’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels fell more than 2.5 percent to a level not seen since 1890, when the UK was perhaps the most powerful economy in the world and basking in the prolonged afterglow of the Industrial Revolution earlier in the century.

Carbon Brief’s figures are based on BEIS energy figures, pending official government data on emissions due later in the month. The fall in carbon emissions has been in large part attributed to decline in the use of coal by almost a fifth in the last year. And the reduction in emissions follows even greater progress in 2016. In short, the UK has over the past two years seen a huge decrease in its use of coal, which in turn has reduced the volumes of CO2 we’re pumping into the air, which now sit 38 percent below 1990 levels.

You would think this would be cause for celebration. Sadly not.

Speaking at Ecobuild, BEIS’s deputy director for clean growth and carbon budgets, Olivia Haslam, made it clear using flexibilities to meet the emissions targets set in the fourth and fifth carbon budgets is very much on the table. In short, despite the reduction in emissions from fossil fuels – which is indicative of a move away from the likes of coal – the UK is still some ways away from meeting its future obligations.

The mooted use of flexibilities to meet carbon budget targets was derided by the likes of the Committee on Climate Change. Fundamentally it means claiming success based on past achievements rather than continued progress. And the CCC is entirely right to push back on the future use of flexibilities, if for no other reason than it hardly inspires confidence in the push to clean growth.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that despite the new figures, the potential use of flexibilities remains on the horizon. While the UK continues to divest itself from fossil fuels, business and industry continue to be a main contributor to carbon emissions. As does transport and domestic energy inefficiencies. All of which were referenced in the Clean Growth Strategy last year.

A criticism of the CGS when it was published was that it was more aspiration than plan. Three months into the year, the Government needs to show how its working to some of the goals it set last autumn.