Provisional statistics published today for total UK greenhouse gas emissions for 2007 showed a drop of two percent below the previous year, with 639.4 million metric tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent, down from 652.3 million metric tonnes in 2006.
The decrease in CO2 emissions resulted from fuel switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation, combined with lower fossil fuel consumption by households and industry.
"These figures show we are making progress in cutting emissions and are on target to go beyond our Kyoto targets," said Benn. "But there's much to do at home and abroad if we are to going to avert dangerous climate change."
Friends of the Earth UK welcomed the drop in carbon dioxide emissions but said tougher government climate action is still required to avert dangerous climate warming.
The UK's Kyoto target is to lower greenhouse gas emissions 12.5 percent below 1990 levels by year end 2012.
The coal-fired power plant at Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire, England. Since 2003, the station has established itself as the market leader in the co-firing of renewable fuels, achieving a net reduction of the plant's greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto.com
The emissions target for the European Union as a whole is eight percent lower than 1990 levels. The 15 EU member states that were EU members in 1990 have redistributed their targets among themselves, taking advantage of a scheme under the Kyoto Protocol known as a "bubble," whereby countries have different individual targets. When combined, these make an overall target for that group of countries. The UK is responsible for lowering emissions 12.5 percent below 1990 levels.
Yet the government is looking past the end of the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, when a much deeper reduction of 26 to 32 percent in greenhouse gases is the goal.
The Climate Change Bill includes a series of targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions - including making the UK's targets for a 60 percent reduction by 2050 and a 26 to 32 percent reduction by 2020 legally binding.
"We need to see a major change across the whole of the UK economy if we are to meet the ambitious emissions reduction targets set in the Climate Change Bill," now working its way through parliament, said Benn.
The Climate Change Bill includes a new system of legally binding five year "carbon budgets," set at least 15 years ahead, to provide clarity on the UK's pathway towards its key targets and increase the certainty that businesses and individuals need to invest in low-carbon technologies.
To accomplish these steep emissions reductions, the government will develop carbon markets and promote the development of low carbon technology, while continuing to work to get international agreement on global emissions targets.
"Today's figures show that we are on the way to a low carbon future," said Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks. "Energy efficiency, more renewable energy, new nuclear, and carbon capture and storage technology will all play a key part in ensuring that greenhouse gas emissions continue to fall."
Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner, Robin Webster, said, "It's good news that carbon dioxide emissions were lower in 2007 than 2006, although the suspicion is that this is down to good luck rather than good judgement."
"Labour still isn't delivering the kind of climate action we need - on energy, on transport, or on housing, Webster said. "Carbon dioxide emissions are still only one percent below 1997 levels - despite repeated promises of substantial cuts. And today's figures exclude emissions from shipping and aviation."
The government said the statistics include domestic flights but not international flights since there is currently no internationally agreed method to take account of international aviation emissions.
"The government must do more to tackle climate change," Webster urged. "Its Climate Change Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, must be strengthened to include Britain's share of international carbon dioxide emissions from aviation and shipping, and commit the UK to delivering cuts in emissions of at least 80 percent by 2050.
"The government must also put tackling climate change at the heart of all its policies and make it easier and cheaper for us all to go green," Webster said.
Benn said the government can provide encouragement and incentives, but individuals and businesses must "do their bit to cut their carbon footprint because it's only by all of us tackling climate change that we will achieve success."
The environmental campaign group is critical of the government's move toward new nuclear power. Business Secretary John Hutton's claim that Britain must "significantly expand" its nuclear power production for the sake of national security and to combat climate change is misleading and dangerous, Friends of the Earth said Wednesday.
The environmental campaign group said that if the government put this level of commitment into genuine green solutions - expansion of renewables, energy efficiency, combined heat and power and cleaner carbon technology, "we could lead the world, create thousands of jobs and meet our energy needs."
The provisional emissions estimates published today will be subject to revision when the final estimates are published in early 2009; still, they provide an early indication of emissions in the most recent full calendar year. The majority of provisional estimates are within one percent of the final figures.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.