The Government has come under fire over its commitment to fighting climate change after a new report revealed that the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions jumped by more than any other country in Europe last year.
A Europe-wide survey that challenges David Cameron’s pledge to lead “the greenest government ever”, found that Britain’s CO2 emissions jumped by 18m tonnes, or 3.9 per cent, in 2012 as manufacturing increased, households turned up the heating and energy generators largely switched from gas to coal. Coal is more polluting than gas and its use has increased as the price of coal has fallen.
Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow energy minister, said: “It is very worrying that David Cameron’s promise to lead the greenest government ever appears to have gone up in smoke,” adding that it was important to “invest in home-grown sources of clean energy”.
Greenpeace Energy campaigner Leila Deen added: "These figures are a stark reminder that the Coalition needs to take decarbonisation more seriously, starting with the electricity sector.”
Ms Deen said it was essential that on Tuesday MPs vote in favour of a proposal to make Britain’s electricity supply almost entirely green by 2030 – a move backed by the Liberal Democrats and Energy secretary Ed Davey and opposed by Chancellor George Osborne.
The UK’s increase in CO2 emissions is three times as big as the 6.4m tonne rise recorded by second-placed Germany last year and makes Britain one of only four countries in the EU 27 to see its emissions, according to the report by Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics agency. Last year’s rise follows a decrease of about 7 per cent in Britain in 2011 as manufacturing languished and the country benefited from a relatively warm winter.
A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: “Cheaper coal relative to gas has resulted in a short-term increase in the amount of carbon emissions from UK power stations. The amount of coal generation is expected to decline rapidly by 2020 as a result of our move to a low carbon economy.”
The spokesman moved to head off criticism from some quarters that the rise in emissions represented a failure of green subsidies, which have been added to the energy bills of struggling consumers.
“Global gas prices have primarily been pushing up household energy bills – not green subsidies. Investing in home grown alternatives is the only sure-fire way of insulating our economy and bill payers from international energy price volatility,” he said.
In percentage terms, the UK’s 3.9 per cent rise in emissions was eclipsed only by Malta at 6.3 per cent – although the tiny size of the Mediterranean country means its relatively larger increase was less than one hundredth of Britain’s rise in absolute terms – 162,000 tonnes.
At 472m tonnes, Britain is second only to Germany in terms of carbon emissions and well ahead of third-placed France, which emitted 365m tonnes last year.
The CO2 emissions figure relates to the carbon dioxide generated from energy production, which represents about 80 per cent of the total emissions. Other sources of CO2 include industrial processes, such as cement making, which produces carbon dioxide when the calcium carbonate is heated and waste decomposition.
The Government’s aim to decrease its carbon emissions suffered a further blow as new figures showed a 97 per cent collapse in the number of installations of cavity wall insulations in the past year, from almost 40,000 in April last year to 1,138 last month.
Better insulation lies at the heart of the government’s drive to cut emissions, by reducing the amount of energy needed to heat homes. However, the slump indicates a lack of interest in the government’s new Green Deal programme, which ministers had hoped would spur the biggest home improvement programme since the Second World War. Under the scheme, which was launched in January, people borrow money to pay for the insulation and repay the lender through their utility bills in the hope that the savings will be greater than the loan repayments. However, relatively high interest rates of up to 7 per cent, the inconvenience of having the builders in and confusion over how the scheme works have put many potential borrowers off. This has made the Green Deal less effective than the previous insulation incentive schemes it has replaced.
A DECC spokesman said: “It’s early days for the Green Deal. Official numbers on the number of installations won’t be available until the end of June, but the early signs are encouraging.”