UK Economy Grows Greener, But World Heading for 3-4°C of Warming

  • Carbon Emissions. © Gregory Heath, CSIROUK is the most improved nation in PwC’s annual index of carbon efficient growth in G20
  • But globally, current rates of carbon emissions will burn this century’s IPCC carbon budget within 20 years
  • Globally, annual reductions need to be five times current levels

The UK is one of the most carbon-efficient economies in the world, according to new analysis by PwC, coming second in an Index of G20 nations.

The data, compiled by PwC in the sixth annual Low Carbon Economy Index, “2 Degrees of Separation – Ambition & Reality”, analyses how countries grow their economy, while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) linked to energy.

The UK, third from the bottom in the 2012 list, is now second in the league of G20 nations on their change in rate of carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for every $GDP the country produces.

The UK achieved a 4.8% reduction in carbon intensity, four times the average level achieved globally. This is better than reductions achieved during the dash for gas in the nineties but is still 1.2% short of what is needed.

It means that for every $1 million of GDP, the UK emits 206 tonnes of CO2, making UK factories, homes and offices more carbon efficient this year than Turkey, Germany, the US, China and India. However, due to their higher levels of nuclear and renewables power, France and Italy are amongst four nations who beat the UK’s in the report on this measure.

In the UK, improvements in energy efficiency, a record growth in renewables of almost 34%, (the highest growth of all the G20) and the closure of several coal fired power stations all contributed to its improving performance.

PwC Low Carbon Economy Index 2014
Top five nations in PwC Low Carbon Economy Index, with corresponding carbon intensity rate of reduction/increase last year. © PwC

Leo Johnson, Partner, Sustainability and Climate Change, PwC, commented, “The UK is starting to turn the corner on carbon. Through increased efficiency and investment in renewable, the UK has started to decouple growth from carbon. The challenge now is getting a policy platform in place that accelerates this transition. Our current burn rate is taking us to four degrees. Keeping it to two degrees means decarbonising at more than five times our current rate.”

“A business logic has started to emerge. It’s about minimising the downside the UK in terms of flooding, energy costs and food security. It’s also about attracting investment, boosting jobs and liveability.”

Jonathan Grant, Director, Sustainability and Climate Change, PwC, said, “Doing business in a changing climate is becoming very real for UK plc. Some of the high street’s biggest names are conducting risk assessments of long-term climate trends and the implications for their supply chains and business operations.”

“Not only that, our analysis shows that the top ten destinations for UK foreign direct investment were exposed to almost $ 100 bn of economic losses from weather related events last year. Multi-billion pound UK investments are wrapped up in infrastructure, technology, retail, food and energy sectors, making this an issue on everyone’s doorstep.”

Australia came top in the annual index of G20 nations, with a 7.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, due to a fall in energy demand and a 30% increase in use of hydroelectric power due to unusually high rainfall. But it may be difficult to maintain this level of performance given the repeal of the carbon tax and the current trends in oil, coal and gas mining. Italy, China and South Africa complete the list of the top five performers in the index.