The UK’s emissions of climate-warming gases surged in 2012 as cheap coal replaced gas in power stations, official data revealed on Thursday.
However, 2012 was a record year for renewable energy in Scotland, which produced enough electricity to power all of its homes. Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, said his government was now on track to meet its target of generating the equivalent of 50% of Scotland’s own electricity needs by 2015 and 100% by 2020.
The UK’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 4.5% from 2011-12, with coal use in power stations jumping by 31%. Coal prices have dropped significantly as the US has exported the coal it no longer needs at home due to the shale gas boom. Another factor is that many of the UK’s coal-fired power stations must close soon, due to European pollution regulations, meaning they have been using up their allotted hours. The gas used in power stations dropped by 31%.
But there was a jump in the gas used to heat homes due to a cold last quarter of 2012, which the department for energy and climate change said had been 2.3C colder than Q4 2011. The cold weather in the UK in recent weeks led to gas reserve levels falling to just two days worth, with the price spiking as a result.
Emissions rose in the business sector, despite the UK’s flatlining economy. But pollution from transport – a quarter of all emissions – fell by 1.2%. Overall, the UK’s emissions remain about 20% lower than in 1990, largely due to gas replacing coal and some industry moving manufacturing abroad. The statistics also showed that UK imports of energy were higher in 2012 than for several decades.