Transport biggest polluter as UK greenhouse gases fall

Transport was the largest sector for UK greenhouse gas pollution in 2017, as emissions driving climate change fell 3% overall, official statistics show.

Greenhouse gases were down 3% on 2016 to 460 million tonnes, and the main pollutant, carbon dioxide, was also down 3%, to 373 million tonnes in 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available.

The UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by more than two-fifths (42%) since 1990 and carbon dioxide is down 37% over the same period.

But transport emissions have fallen just 2% since 1990 and now account for more than a quarter (27%) of the total greenhouse gas output – a bigger share than energy supplies, businesses, homes, agriculture or other sectors.

Pollution from energy supplies, which was the largest emitting sector until 2016 when it was overtaken by transport, has dropped 60% since 1990.

The sector recorded a fall of 8% in 2017 as electricity generation continues to shift away from coal and towards renewables and now accounts for just under a quarter of emissions (24%).

Much of the pollution from transport, which includes road, railways, domestic aviation, shipping, fishing and aircraft support vehicles, is from road traffic, in particular passenger cars.

The Government has outlined plans to phase out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, as part of efforts to curb urban air pollution and tackle emissions of the gases which drive up global temperatures.

But the figures have prompted renewed calls to speed up the switch from petrol and diesel vehicles.

Morten Thaysen, transport campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Despite producing 30% more carbon dioxide than the whole of Belgium, our transport sector remains the climate elephant in the room.

“We could be starting the kind of decline on transport emissions as we’ve done with power but instead both the Government and the car industry are idling on the issue.

“Moving the Government’s petrol and diesel phase out date forward to 2030 would be an important start.

“This needs to be matched with policies that drive immediate uptake of electric vehicles and help the public move from polluting cars to greener transport.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “It’s shocking that emissions from agriculture and waste actually increased in 2017 and transport’s contribution has inched down by just 2% since 1990.

“With this Government’s huge subsidies for fossil fuels, relentless building of new roads and runways, slashing of support for clean energy and sordid love affair with the car industry, it’s incredible that overall emissions fell at all.”

She called for a “Green New Deal” with huge Government investment to guarantee a green job for everyone who wants one and accelerate the transition to clean energy, affordable and reliable public transport and thriving nature.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity – how much pollution is produced for the size of the economy – also fell 4% in 2017, continuing a long term trend.

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