UK’s energy and environment report card

By Tierney Smith

Figures released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics find mixed results for the country’s environmental performance.

The figures measure a variety of areas, from coal and gas use, energy consumption, emissions, renewable energy sources, forestry and environmental taxes.

It builds up a picture generally of the direction the country is moving in both in terms of energy and in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

RTCC’s environmental report card aims to assess the environmental performance of the UK.

How well is the UK performing when it comes to the environment and climate change? (© UN)

Use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions output

The UK’s use of coal halved between 1990 and 2010 (from 66.2 Mtoe to 32.5 Mtoe) and its use of natural gas almost doubled in the same period. A similar switch was seen between petrol and diesel.

Other fuels fell by 20.8% driven by decreases in fuel oil, gas oil and coke despite an increase in aviation.

While greenhouse gas emissions were down on 1990, they saw an increase of 3% from 2009 to 2010 to 664 million tonnes of CO2e.


While the move from more carbon intensive fuels such as coal to alternatives such as gas can be viewed as a positive step, the huge increase in natural gas is still a negative for climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions saw a rise from 2009.


Energy consumption

Energy consumption increased by 3% compared with 2009. While this was below the levels between 1995 and 2008, it is still an increase of 1.9% from 1990. Consumption from households was the biggest contributor to the rise, followed by manufacturing (although this was down on 1990 levels), transport and communication and trade – all sectors driven by consumer wants and needs.

There was also a 3.8% increase in the direct use of energy from fossil fuels between 2009 and 2010.


Energy consumption in many sectors continues to rise, or has not declined. Much of this is down to consumer lifestyles and day-to-day living with household’s energy consumption the highest. While manufacturing had seen a decrease on energy consumption since 1990, it still remained the second biggest user of energy.


Renewable energy use

The use of energy from renewable and waste sources grew five fold between 1990 and 2010, and in 2010 it accounted for 3.2% of total energy consumption. An increase of 6.8% was seen between 2009 and 2010.

This increase was driven by road transport biofuels and wood energy consumption. In a similar trend to energy consumption, it was the use of renewables by households which was the major contributor to this figure, followed by use in the electricity, water and waste industry groups.


Figures on renewables provide evidence of a positive trend in production of clean energy, however these figures continue to full short of the potential for renewable energy in the UK, particularly technologies including solar, wind and hydropower which currently only account for 17% of renewable energy generation.


Environmental taxes

The government raised £43.3 billion from environmental taxes in 2011 – 2.9% of GDP. This was £1.2 billion more than in 2010 and more than double that raised in 1993.

Broken down this included £33.5 billion in energy taxes, £5.8 billion in road vehicles taxes and £4.0 billion in other taxes – including air passenger duty, landfill tax, and aggregates levy.


While environmental tax revenue has increased, as a proportion of GDP it has fallen since 1993. Poor explanations of what is and is not a ‘green’ tax have created unnecessary opposition. Innovative funding sources have so far been ignored. 


Forestry conservation

Forestry cover across the UK increased by 0.3% last year. In March 2011, 12.7% of the UK land area was covered in woodland, two and a half times the area covered in 1924.

This can largely be explained by new commercial conifer plantations from the 1950s and 1980s and the switch from the National Inventory of Woodland and Trees to the National Forestry Inventory – which includes greater coverage.

The estimated market value of UK woodland increased 69% to £9 billion in 2011 compared to 2008, while the UK consumption of wood products decreased in 2011 after rising in 2010.


The trend towards woodland coverage being increased, along with the value of such woodland is a positive step.  

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