According to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report, the UK transportation and storage sector’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 9% in 2021 year-on-year but consumers’ emissions rose by 7% between 2020 and 2021.
The report showed that the transportation and storage sector saw the largest decrease of all industry sectors since 2019. Freight transport by road has helped play a role in the industry’s reduction, falling from a peak of 15 Mt Co2e in 1997 to 13 Mt Co2e today.
Consumer emissions are now the single largest cause of carbon pollution in the UK, creating 26% of the UK’s total of greenhouse gas emissions. For consumers, there was a reduction in UK emissions during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Largely due to a reduction in consumer travel. In 2019, consumer travel (to work, to the shops etc) created 69 Mt Co2e; during the lockdown of 2020, that dropped 11% to 54 Mt Co2e, before increasing slightly to 59 Mt Co2e, in 2021.
Some critics claimed the boom in home deliveries during lockdowns would create a significant increase in pollution, which led to green tax suggestions. The fall in transportation and storage greenhouse gas emissions was attributed to a mix of greener vehicles, reduced traffic as people stopped commuting, and more successful first-time deliveries because so many people worked from home.
David Jinks, head of consumer research of ParcelHero, commented, “The good news is that the UK is getting greener. From a peak of 852,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt Co2e) a year in 1991, UK total emissions fell by 41% to just over 502 Mt Co2e in 2021. The transport and storage sector has made great strides in reducing its emissions. At its worst, in 2005, it created nearly 99 Mt Co2e a year. By 2021, that had fallen by 42%, to 57 Mt Co2e.
“However, the UK cannot be complacent. Energy companies’ emissions jumped 7%, from 80 Mt Co2e in 2020 to 86 Mt Co2e in 2021, and consumer emissions, such as heating and travel, also rose 7%, from 125 Mt Co2e in 2020 to 134 Mt Co2e in 2021. That’s still a significant reduction from the peak of 163 Mt Co2e consumers reached in 2004, however.
“Looking in closer detail, there was a slight increase in emissions from postal and courier services, from 1.79 Mt Co2e in 2019 to 1.8 Mt Co2e in 2021. However, this is more than offset by the reduction of 10 Mt Co2e achieved through fewer consumer shopping and work trips. In terms of the wider impact of Covid, this is brought most sharply into focus by the dramatic fall in emissions created by air transport services. In 2019, they stood at 41 Mt Co2e. In 2020, they fell a whopping 58% to 17 Mt co2e. And in 2021, they declined still further, to 16.8 Mt Co2e, as air transport struggled to take off again.
“While Covid lockdowns created considerable stress for some people, they resulted in fresher air for everyone. In 2019, across the UK, we created 550 Mt Co2e of greenhouse gases; in 2020, this plummeted by 11% to 488 Mt Co2e. The inescapable conclusion from these results is that if more people worked from home and took fewer flights abroad, the UK could play a major part in reducing the threat of global warming and the quality of the air we breathe would be significantly improved.
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