Carbon Emissions In The UK The Lowest Since 1894

Victorian buildings

Carbon emissions are now around the same level as during the Victorian era. Peter Cripps/Shutterstock

With fresh doubts about the stability of the Paris climate agreement ratified last year, it seems that there is little to worry about for the United Kingdom, at least. Analysis of the latest figures looking into the country’s carbon emissions have found that it is well on track for hitting its targets, as they are currently the lowest they have been since the 19th century.

Emissions of carbon dioxide dropped by 5.8 percent in 2016, bringing it to the lowest it has been since 1894 (excusing the slight blip in the 1920s, when there were major mining disputes). This means that the UK has now reduced their carbon emissions by 36 percent of 1990 levels, the benchmark year usually used when setting reduction targets.


The details of this dramatic drop in coal use and carbon emissions comes from a Carbon Brief analysis of Department of Energy, Business, and Industrial Strategy figures, ahead of the department's own CO2 estimates, which should be out on March 30.

The drop in emissions is largely down to the massive slump in the use of coal in the UK to generate electricity. Compared to last year alone, the country consumed 52 percent less of the stuff. Compared to 2007, the burning of coal has declined by an astonishing 74 percent. This has brought the total amount of coal burned in the UK last year down to 18 million tonnes (19.8 million tons), which is 12 times below the record 221 million tonnes (243 million tons) used in 1956.

The causes behind the slump in coal use in the UK are varied. Gas has become a cheaper and cleaner source of energy, while the renewable industry has similarly ballooned in the country. Combined with a decline in overall energy demand and the closure of a major steelworks in late 2015, less electricity was needed.

But one of the major reasons is thought to be the hefty carbon tax placed on coal in the UK, which the government doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per tonne of CO2. This has been part of a strategy to see the last remaining coal power plants close down, with three of the six having done so last year.  


This massive drop in the emissions from coal, however, have been slightly offset by those from other fossil fuels, with emissions from oil up slightly by 1.6 percent and gas increasing by 12.5 percent. Either way, the net result has been the dramatic fall in emissions, which in the long run can only be a good thing. Perhaps other world leaders should take note that the days of coal are numbered and investments should be directed towards other fuel sources.


  • tag
  • climate change,

  • global warming,

  • carbon,

  • gas,

  • fossil fuels,

  • renewables,

  • carbon emissions,

  • UK,

  • United Kingdom,

  • coal,

  • Paris climate agreement