Business is responsible for less than 50% of UK emissions

Source : The Guardian

In “Zero Carbon Our Choice”, I argued that while many people think that achieving zero carbon is the responsibility of government and business, in fact it is impossible without a change to the choices which we as consumers make.

Using the 2018 final statistics as summarised in “2018 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Final figures 4 February 2020 National Statistics” as the basis for this. “In 2018, 28% of net greenhouse gas emissions in the UK were estimated to be from the transport sector, 23% from energy supply, 18% from business, 15% from the residential sector and 10% from agriculture. The rest was attributable to the remaining sectors: waste management, industrial processes, and the public sector. The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector acted as a net sink in 2018 so emissions were effectively negative.”

My argument is that we need to analyse these figures to look at who is responsible for the emissions by the choices they make?

On this basis, the emissions of energy supply (23%)  – mainly electricity generation – are decided by government decisions and regulations. It was government dictat which stopped coal use in power generation by imposing a cost penalty on coal burnt in power stations. These emissions are not business emissions as although business is an end user, like we the consumer, they do not determine the power mix of power generation, it is government regulation and pricing mechanisms which do.

18% from business is business’s responsibility.

28 % from transport. “Road transport is the most significant source of emissions in this sector, in particular passenger cars; and the changes which have been seen over the period were heavily influenced by this category. Figure 5 shows how the volume of traffic on the roads has changed over time in Great Britain, which reflects the trend seen for the UK. Motor vehicle traffic volumes have generally increased throughout this period, other than a fall seen between 2007 and 2012 following the recession.”

56% of transport emissions relate to passenger cars, so even if one assumes that all the other transport emissions are business then 12% of total UK emissions are business transport emissions but 16% are public emissions, from our choice to drive ICE vehicles.

15% from the residential sector “The residential sector consists of emissions from fuel combustion for heating and cooking, garden machinery, and fluorinated gases released from aerosols and metered dose inhalers. It is estimated to have been responsible for around 15% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, with carbon dioxide being the most prominent gas for this sector (96%). The main source of emissions from this sector is the use of natural gas for heating and cooking.”

These are not business emissions. Again, these are emissions from our choice to use carbon fuels in our homes. There are roughly 27 million homes in the UK, the government has a target to install 600,000 heat pump systems per annum. At this rate, we will still have carbon heating in 2066 and nearly 10 million UK homes will still have carbon heating by 2050. To put this in perspective in 2017, 20,000 heat pump systems were installed.

10% Agriculture. If one considers agriculture to be a business, then these emissions are business emissions. But half these emissions arise from the production of meat products. One can argue that again these emissions arise as a result of the choice which we the consumer makes to eat meat and therefore that “business emissions” in agriculture are 5% of the total.

2% from industrial processes is a business responsibility.

2% Public sector is not a business responsibility.

5% Waste management (mainly landfill). At least half of this is from food waste in landfill. So, I would suggest business is responsible for 2% of these emissions at most.

Land use is negative 2-3% mainly from forestry.

Using this basis, business is responsible for the emissions from total UK emissions of business 18%, business transport 12%, Industrial processes 2%, waste management 2% , a total of 34%. If agriculture is included this increase to either 39% or 44% (depending on how meat production emissions are treated).

Consumers are responsible for emissions from private transport 16%, residential 15%, waste 3%, a total of 34%.

Government is responsible for Energy supply 23% and public sector 2%, a total of 25%

This doesn’t allocate the negative land use of 2-3%.

Using these UK numbers, business is responsible for (and can control and reduce) under half of the UK emissions. It does not control the emissions of Energy Supply, (even if it is a part end user like consumers) nor of the public sector nor of consumers themselves.

A recent poll showed that 67% of UK respondents thought the government should do more about zero carbon. What these figures show is that those respondents need to do more about their own emissions if net zero carbon, is to be achieved. Buying electric cars, using non carbon heating for their homes, minimising food waste in land fill and probably eating a lot less meat are all decisions we need to make. And I haven’t included emissions from flying.

Net zero carbon is about our choices as well as government action.

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