Pandemic restrictions due to Covid-19 have had a direct benefit on the environment, but for how long?

Britain’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 8.9% in 2020, according to provisional data published last week, which is good news for combating climate change. The drop – the largest seen in recent times – was primarily driven by fewer cars on the road and restrictions in economic activity designed to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The report estimates GHG emissions at 414.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2020, down from 454.8 million tonnes the previous year. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – the main GHG – were estimated at 326 million tonnes, 10.7% lower than 2019.

The biggest drop in pollution came from the transport sector, where CO2 emissions fell almost 20%, while emissions in the energy sector dropped by almost 12%, driven by a reduction in energy use and an increase in the amount of energy coming from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Residential emissions of CO2 rose by 1.8% during this period as more people stayed at home. But when the figure is adjusted for the mild weather, there was actually a 6.7% (4.8 million tonne) increase in residential emissions! As such, helping people to insulate their homes and replace their gas boilers is essential to protect our One Home.

Similarly, public sector emissions reduced by 2%, although if the figures are adjusted for the warm weather, then there was actually 1.3% (0.1 million tonne) increase in emissions from the public sector between 2019 and 2020.

Meanwhile, business energy emissions dropped by a much higher 8.7%, as shops and the hospitality sector shut their doors, but pollution is expected to rise again once the economy reopens and road traffic increases, particularly as people avoid public transport.

Britain’s emissions have now been on the decline for the last eight years, and are now at 48.8% below 1990 levels, according to the data.

While these results obviously spell good news for environmental concerns, they do indicate the extent of change that’s needed if the UK is to reach its target of net zero emissions by 2050. There is a risk that once the pandemic has passed the nation will return to a ‘business as usual’ mindset, and future drops in emissions, if any, will become less pronounced.

As such, the government must focus on longer-term measures in order to drive sustained reductions to reduce carbon pollution to net zero by 2050.

Angela Terry, founder of One Home, said: “It’s great that Britain is nearly half way (48.8%) to hitting its carbon neutral target by 2050, but the Government will need to do a lot more to reduce its own carbon footprint and ensure systematic change, particularly supporting the public to reduce heating at home and emissions from transport.”

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