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Is a climate neutral society impossible? The British are already halfway there | Now

According to an expert site analysis, British CO2 emissions have returned to 1879, more than thirty years ago. Carbon abbreviation. It was in that year that Thomas Edison applied for a patent for a light bulb in the UK and drove the first (horse drawn) tram in Utrecht. How did the British get so far? How do they relate to the Netherlands and the European Union?

The British are twice as far away as the Netherlands

  • British emissions have fallen twice as fast as Dutch emissions since 1990
  • The average UK emits more CO2 than a Dutch person
  • The UK has twice as much renewable energy as the Netherlands

The United Kingdom has the same ultimate goal as the EU: it must be completely climate neutral by 2050. But last year the British chose the most ambitious interim target for 2030: their emission should be then 68 percent Below 1990 levels below European levels 55 percent.

However, they will have less difficulty in achieving their ambitious 2030 goal.

UK greenhouse gas emissions were 51 per cent lower than our 1990 levels last year 24.5 percent. This picture is also true in absolute figures: on average Britain emits 4.5 tons of CO2 per year, twice as much as a Dutch person. The EU average is somewhere in between.

Surprisingly, the United Kingdom, as a rich industrial country, is now right above the world average. So the average British emissions are lower than the average Chinese (but almost three times higher than the average citizen of India).

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The coal era began and ended in the United Kingdom

You could say the English are coming from far away. Coal mining in England and Wales was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. The peak of British CO2 emissions in 1973 continued much later. Even then, the British economy relied heavily on coal.

That time is long overdue. The last coal-fired power plant in the United Kingdom is scheduled to close in 2024 – six years before the Netherlands.

The remaining coal-fired power plants are no longer needed: last year coal supplied only 1.6 per cent of the UK’s electricity. This was due to the exceptionally low gas prices in 2020, which means we also burned less coal in the Netherlands.

The left and right boxes are also in principle

Not wind farms or nuclear power plants, but stability is the secret of the British climate. In 1990 Margaret Thatcher was still in power, after which the right-wing and left-wing boxes won over each other. If you look at the CO2 map, it really makes no difference – it shows a steady decline, which has been strongly accelerated, especially since 2008.

The Netherlands is substantial: our CO2 emissions were up 2018 Is at the 1990s level. We reduced ‘other greenhouse gases’ such as methane and nitrous oxide, but the British have done so in the meantime.

CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom have returned to 1879. The black line shows a sharp decline in coal use since 1973.


CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom have returned to 1879.  The black line shows a sharp decline in coal use since 1973.

CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom have returned to 1879. The black line shows a sharp decline in coal use since 1973.

Photo: Carbon Brief

2020 was a turning point for British green electricity

Significance has changed in British climate policy. Initially, profits were made by handling energy waste and partially switching from coal to gas-fired power plants.

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Renewable energy is now driving change, and oil and gas consumption is declining. For the first time in the United Kingdom last year, more electricity was produced from renewable energy than fossil fuels. In the Netherlands, renewable energy provided a quarter of electricity (11 percent of total energy demand).