UK’s carbon footprint shrank by 13% in 2020 amid pandemic, data shows

The country produced a total 582 million tonnes of the greenhouse gases that year compared with 670 million tonnes in 2019

The UK's carbon footprint declined considerably during the Covid-19 pandemic, data shows. Bloomberg
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The UK’s carbon footprint shrank by an estimated 13 per cent in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic hit, UK government data shows.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs updated its emissions data on Wednesday with figures from 2020, the year when the country faced nationwide lockdowns from late March.

The carbon footprint data, which includes emissions from any use of goods produced in the UK, encompasses the seven main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydro-fluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, nitrogen trifluoride and sulphur hexafluoride.

It suggests the UK produced a total 582 million tonnes of the greenhouse gases that year compared with 670 million tonnes in 2019.

It represents a 13 per cent decrease in the UK's emissions, compared with a 3 per cent drop between 2018 and 2019.

Emissions increased between 2017 and 2018, with the country producing 670 million tonnes and 689 million tonnes, respectively.

The 2020 decrease was driven by falling emissions in transport by UK residents, goods and services produced in the UK and imported goods, all probably caused by large proportions of the population being isolated at home.

The only area in which 2020 saw an increase in emissions was household heating.

The UK’s carbon footprint has been steadily decreasing since a peak in 2007, where the country emitted 959 million tonnes.

Emissions from 2020 are 39 per cent lower than the 2007 peak, the figures suggest.

Dustin Benton, policy director at Green Alliance, warned that the UK must not become complacent in terms of tackling emissions despite the decrease in 2020.

“We should have expected emissions to fall in 2020, it was a really weird year," Mr Benton said.

“We shut down the economy and we stopped people travelling because of Covid, so naturally emissions were always going to fall.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a trend.

“Our work in Green Alliance policy tracker shows that the UK is seriously off track on meeting its future carbon commitments.

“So we shouldn’t be complacent and think that just because there was one very odd but good year from the emissions perspective that we’re on track to net zero.”

Updated: June 08, 2023, 9:18 AM