As Low-Hanging Fruit Is Plucked, UK Emissions Reductions Slow

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CC BY 2.0. jkbrooks85

What's next after the coal purge?

Amid all the gloom and doom about climate change, it's been encouraging to watch UK emissions fall dramatically in recent years—thanks, in large part, to an extremely rapid phase out of coal. But as I've argued before, the trouble with low-hanging fruit is that one day it will all be gone. And then you have to go get a ladder.

We may now have reached that point as new analysis from Carbon Brief suggests that, while UK CO2 emissions fell last year for the sixth straight year in a row, the rate of reduction was the smallest annual drop (1.5%) during that same period. If the trend continues, this may suggest a leveling out as coal is phased out of the picture and other emissions reductions efforts have yet to scale up.

That said, there's plenty of reason to believe that another round of rapid reduction could be around the corner, as long as policy makers get serious about electrification of transport and other alternatives to the internal combustion engine. Not only would a push for electric vehicles now inherently reduce oil demand, but because the hard work of phasing out coal has already happened, the emissions reductions will be significantly more than they would have been just a few years ago.

With school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion making regular headlines on that side of the pond, there's also reason to believe that political will may be building to really push this next phase of decarbonization forward. Post-Brexit Britain (assuming Brexit happens!) is going to need an organizing principle. Taking the lead in the low carbon economy would be a great way to do it.