UK emissions fall to new low as high energy prices see households cut back

Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions fell to a new low in 2023 after households and businesses cut back on heating due to high energy prices.

The Energy Department (DESNZ) said territorial emissions – those that take place within a country’s territorial boundaries – fell by 5.4% to 384.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, compared to 2022.

In an update released on Thursday, the department said this was due to “reduced gas use in UK electricity generation and higher energy, and other prices that reduced demand for heating”.

Energy prices for most British households hit record highs in late 2022 and did not start to fall again until July 2023.

The electricity sector, which makes up an estimated 12% of UK emissions, saw greenhouse gas emissions fall by 19.6% in 2023, the data shows.

On top of the reduced electricity demand, DESNZ said Britain imported more electricity from France last year, amid a rebound in the country’s nuclear power output, cutting the need for domestic fossil fuel power production.

The department said this also meant less gas was needed to meet the remaining electricity demand, with the data showing that gas power generation in Britain fell by 21.1% last year.

Meanwhile, emissions in the buildings and product uses sector fell by 6.2%, DESNZ said, adding that high energy prices were also “likely to have been a factor in reduced gas use for heating buildings”.

The data suggests that emissions from the industrial sector fell by 8.0% largely due to reduced fuel consumption in the iron and steel industries.

For the domestic transport sector, which includes aviation, road travel and shipping, emissions fell by 1.4%, DESNZ said.

More widely, last year’s fall in greenhouse gas emissions also marked a 52.7% reduction since 1990.

The Government said Britain was the first major economy to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by half since 1990, after it reached a 50.0% fall in 2022.

ENERGY Emissions
(PA Graphics)

Carbon dioxide emissions specifically saw a 6.6% drop in 2023, meaning the levels have fallen by 49.8% since 1990.

Responding to the data, campaigners called on the Government to deliver on measures like insulation, heat pumps and scaling up renewable energy.

Jess Ralston, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “The UK’s spent over £100bn on gas since the start of the crisis, with most people really feeling the pinch in their energy bills – so it’s no surprise that expensive energy has meant people use less of it.

“Our reliance on gas for home heating has left many colder and poorer.”

Ms Ralston criticised the Government’s decision in September to row back on warm home standards for landlords amid the gas crisis, adding it will leave “renters to face either high bills or a cold home for years to come”.

Meanwhile, Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “Any fall in UK emissions is much needed, but let’s not fool ourselves that we’re on track to meet our international obligations or our legal carbon budgets by 2030.

“Emissions from buildings and transport remain stubbornly high and the government doesn’t have a policy in place yet to deliver the cuts needed for the planet or to uphold our international promises.

“Sunak needs to get serious about insulation, heat pumps and public transport, and must rapidly scale up the roll out of renewables and the electrification of vehicles to get us on track.”

Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “This latest drop in our emissions follows the UK’s achievement in becoming the first major economy to halve its polluting carbon emissions.

“We have done all this whilst growing our economy by 80%, and shielding families from unnecessary costs.”