climate change websites

Exploring Britain’s greenhouse gases

Last week the DECC updated their series of factsheets on Britain’s ‘greenhouse gas inventory’. It’s one of the ways we measure and report carbon, in this case for the UNFCC. If you need all the numbers on Britain’s carbon emissions in one place, this is a useful site to bookmark.

Here are Britain’s CO2 emissions by sector:

uk-co2-emissions

This is a fairly familiar graph, confirming that energy generation and transport are the biggest decarbonisation priorities. But this is just CO2, which amounts for 82% of greenhouse gas emissions. Add in the other greenhouse gases and the picture changes a little.

Agriculture, for example, doesn’t produce much CO2. But it does have high emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. Those are much more powerful greenhouse gases – 300 times more powerful than CO2 in the case of nitrous oxide. The little 1% slice of CO2 emissions grows to a 9.5% slice when those are factored in.

The contribution from waste also grows from 0.1% to 4%, mainly due to methane emissions from landfill. Fortunately those emissions have dropped by 67% since 1990 as recycling rates have risen and the landfill tax has made the easy option less attractive.

That’s a dramatic fall, and indeed there is progress to report in every category, though not equally. Residential emissions, 96% of which are domestic gas use, have only fallen by 4% since 1990. That’s not fast enough, and it suggests that household efficiency and renewable heat should be given more attention.

If you work on climate change, it’s well worth exploring these factsheets (minus the mislabeled graph in the overall GHG summary doc) and digging out insights into what’s working and what’s being forgotten as we work towards a low carbon society.

2 comments

  1. The issue is in large part a cultural one. Few people I know have turned down the thermostat so as to reduce their emissions. Neither have they cut back much on driving (tho’ their cars have become more efficient due to regulatory pressures). Business culture views costs as important and so firms are incentivised to reduce energy use more strongly than households. The big challenge, it seems to me is a) to get ordinary people aware that we have a planetary emergency and that it is in their interest to take climate change / resource depletion / population growth seriously, and b) to somehow drive a change in popular culture so that it becomes both cool and commonplace to minimise personal carbon use and maximise recycling.

    1. Definitely. One of the striking things here is that it is changes in technology or government policy that has brought about reductions in emissions, not behaviour change. That has to kick in at some point.

      We know it’s possible, because recycling was nowhere 20 years ago and is now standard practice for most of us. That kind of public education needs to happen with energy.

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