Britain’s CO2 Emissions Have Fallen to Levels Last Seen in 1890

Annual UK carbon emissions from all sources between 1858 and 2017. 

Annual UK carbon emissions from all sources between 1858 and 2017.  Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Driven by a rapid decline in coal use, the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas emissions fell to 388 million tons of CO2 in 2017 — a level last seen in 1890, when the country’s population was nearly half the size it is now, according to an analysis of energy use figures by Carbon Brief.

This marks a 2.6 percent decline in domestic emissions from 2016, and a 19 percent decline in coal use. The UK’s emissions are now 38 percent below 1990s levels. It is also the sixth year in a row that the country’s emissions have dropped. As part of its pledge to the Paris Climate Agreement, Britain aims to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The UK’s emissions decline is largely due to its rapid transition off coal to other energy sources, including natural gas, oil, and renewable energy. Coal accounted for just 5.3 percent of the country’s energy consumption last year, down from 22 percent in 1995, according to Carbon Brief. The British government has pledged to shutter all its coal-fired power stations by 2025.

“The data highlights the dramatic impact that the rapid decline of coal-fired power plants is having on the UK’s emissions,” Leo Hickman, editor of Carbon Brief, told BBC News. “If the UK is to meet its climate targets over the next few decades, this rate of decline will need to be maintained, even accelerated. Action will need to be focused on the transport and building sectors, where emission reductions remain elusive.”

For more on Britain’s move away from coal, click here.