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Why does it matter to save energy?

Climate Change

Planet Earth is currently experiencing unprecedented climate change linked to global warming.

In summary:
  1. Global temperatures have been increasing dramatically for the past 100 years.
  2. A significant part of this warming is caused by an excess of greenhouse gases, the most significant being carbon dioxide.
  3. Carbon dioxide is produced as a result of burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal).
  4. Fossil fuels are the source of most of our energy, including heating and transport.
Saving energy helps tackle climate change, but significantly it also brings personal financial benefits from 2 angles:
  • Reduced energy bills, especially when energy prices are expected to rise (see PEAK OIL).
  • Reduced carbon emissions, which will avoid higher bills in future to meet the cost of tackling climate change.

Further reading? The links are recommended, each taking a different approach.

What are the targets?

The Climate Change Act of 2008 established legally binding reduction targets for UK greenhouse gas emissions. The overall aim is to cut emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. To make this transition, a series of carbon budgets have been set. These require reductions of 23% by 2012, 29% by 2017, 35% by 2022, and 57% by 2030. Note that the UK's 2030 target of 57% is well ahead of the 40% cuts agreed by EU leaders in 2015. But to achieve this will require profound changes in infrastructure and policies, according to the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on setting the targets.

The Copenhagen Accord, signed in 2009, gave international backing to prevent overall global temperature rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, but little in the way of legally binding steps to achieve this. This ambition was strengthened by the 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted by nearly 200 countries: "The universal agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels."

Progress so far?

According to provisional data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in 2018, and covering the period up to 2017:

  • Between 1990 and 2017 there was a 38% decrease in UK carbon dioxide emissions, and a 43% decrease in total greenhouse gas emissions. Total net UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were 456 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2e (i.e. carbon dioxide equivalent), which compares with 514 Mt in 2014 and 557 Mt in 2013.
  • Carbon dioxide accounts for about 80% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, with methane and nitrous oxide being the other main contributors.
  • Much of this year on year decrease was due to a shift away from coal burning in power stations to less carbon-intensive fuels, such as gas, and greater use of renewables.
  • The biggest emitters of greenhouse gases by economic sector are: energy supply (23%), transport (27%), business (14%), and residential (14%).
  • Much of the saving in emissions from energy generation since 1990 is the result of switching to gas from coal. Also, increasingly our goods are manufactured overseas, so in effect countries such as China are our proxy polluters.

The full report on UK greenhouse gas emissions 1990-2016 can be downloaded from GOV.UK here.


Links to other pages

Paris Agreement 2015: is it the real deal?

2013 IPCC report says 'human influence on climate is clear'

External links

  1. CarbonBrief: award-winning UK-based website covers all aspects of climate science, including interactive data dashboards of global climate and energy trends.
  2. Global Warming Science: information from the Union of Concerned Scientists about the causes and effects of global warming, and how to slow it.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which published its Fifth Assessment Report in November 2014
  4. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2010)
  5. Met Office Climate Guide to climate, climate science and climate change
  6. Green Shoots: Staffordshire County Council's climate change strategy! This was published in 2013, and is now chiefly of historical interest!
  7. Staffordshire Declaration on Climate Change (2006)
  8. Transition Towns (responding to the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change)
  9. Latest UK emissions statistics from DECC
  10. UK's Committee on Climate Change ( the independent statutory body advising the UK government)