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UK greenhouse gas emissions rose 5% in 2021, figures show

The data shows emissions were up in 2021, but still below 2019 levels as Covid restrictions continued (Steve Parsons/PA)
The data shows emissions were up in 2021, but still below 2019 levels as Covid restrictions continued (Steve Parsons/PA)

UK greenhouse gas emissions rose nearly 5% last year on 2020’s record lows, official statistics show.

But the provisional data for 2021 reveals climate pollution remained more than 5% below 2019 levels, reflecting the ongoing impact of Covid-19 restrictions.

Total greenhouse gas emissions were up 4.7% in 2021 on 2020 levels, reaching 424.5 million tonnes, but were 5.2% lower than 2019.

Pollution from key greenhouse gas carbon dioxide was up 6.3% year-on-year, with increases in all sectors, led by a 10% jump in transport emissions, the statistics from the Business Department (Beis) show.

Traffic queuing
There was a 10% jump in transport emissions last year (PA)

Over the long term, greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 were 47% below what they were in 1990.

The biggest driver of the long-term fall in emissions is a decrease in pollution from power stations, as electricity generation shifts away from coal towards gas and renewables.

Separate data from Beis shows a drop in renewable generation from a record high in 2020, due to less favourable weather conditions.

Overall, renewables accounted for 39.3% of total generation in 2021, down on the record 43.1% in 2020 but still the second highest level on record.

Nuclear was down to its lowest level in the data as plant outages continued, while fossil fuels were up.

The decrease in renewable and nuclear generation meant low-carbon sources represented 54.1% of generation in 2021, 5.1 percentage points lower than in 2020, the figures show.

Wind farm
Renewables accounted for 39.3% of total energy generation in 2021 (PA)

The climate and energy data comes alongside the latest findings from Beis’ quarterly public attitudes tracker, revealing 85% of the public are concerned about climate change, with 43% saying they are very concerned.

The figures for winter 2021 were unchanged from the autumn.

But an increasing proportion of the public are aware of the concept of net-zero – cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero overall. The UK has a legal target to achieve the shift by 2050.

In winter 2021, more than nine in 10 (91%) of people were aware of the concept of net-zero, a significant increase from 87% in the autumn.

Half of the people quizzed felt they knew a lot or a fair amount about the concept, up from 46 in autumn 2021, the figures show.