Defra: UK Carbon Footprint Shows Signs of Shrinking

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The UK’s carbon footprint continues to show signs of shrinking, with the latest government statistics estimating emissions associated with domestic consumption dropped slightly between 2013 and 2014.

Defra data published today shows the UK’s carbon footprint fell by one per cent between 2013 and 2014, with department declaring that the slight decrease was across both emissions associated with UK produced goods and household emissions.

Overall, it means the UK’s carbon footprint has shrunk by 20 per cent between its 2007 peak of 1,296 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

The carbon footprint of the UK includes the six main greenhouse gases – CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and three fluorinated compounds – and refers to emissions associated with the consumption spending of UK residents on goods and services, wherever in the world they arise along the supply chain.

With the structure of the UK economy having been shifting towards the services sector over the past few decades, many of the goods consumed by households are now produced abroad, meaning the greenhouse gases from producing these goods are emitted outside the UK.

The Defra statistics therefore break down emissions into two sub-sections: those produced and consumed in the UK; those generated by households directly through heating and motoring; and those relating to imports either from China, the EU or the rest of the world.

Critics have argued that while the UK’s domestic emissions have fallen sharply in recent years as the power system has shifted away from coal and energy efficiency has improved, the country’s overall carbon footprint has changed less due to global supply chain emissions.

Today’s statistics confirm emissions relating to the consumption of goods and services produced in the UK have fallen sharply, dropping 27 per cent on 1997, the first year for which these annual statistics were collected.

Meanwhile, the proportion of the total GHG footprint generated directly by UK households has remained at around 17 per cent between 1997 and 2014, according to Defra.

But emissions related to imports used by businesses and directly by consumers have risen by 19 per cent over the same period, reflecting the UK’s shift towards a service-based, import-reliant economy.

Defra said it classifies the data as “experimental” due to “inherent uncertainties” in the estimation of non-CO2 emissions, adding that the methodology is subject to ongoing review and refinement “from time to time”.

The latest estimates follow a report in April which found the UK’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions fell 33 per cent between 1992 and 2014, while GDP grew by 130 per cent over the same period.