Arguably, the greatest progress in reducing UK carbon emissions has been the recession and its impact on industry.
Between 2005 and 2010, total CO2 emissions in the UK fell 10 percent, with the most dramatic shifts coming since the recession began in 2008. Industrial emissions, which account for 44 percent of all UK CO2 emissions, fell 15 percent since 2005. This is clearly linked to the reduction in economic activity and closure of industrial firms, as cities with more service-based economies (e.g., London) have lower CO2 emissions and experienced lower reductions than manufacturing-based economies like Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough is an extreme case in this story. In total, the average per capita CO2 emissions fell 0.2 tonnes per person each year from 2005-2007—during the boom years. But, they fell 3.4 tonnes per person per year during the recession (2008-2010). The city saw a reduction in home and transportation emissions, but those pale in comparison to their industrial emissions reductions. This suggests two things:
- CO2 emissions are falling, in part, due to concentrated efforts for reducing energy consumption in homes and on the roads.
- CO2 emissions are falling, for the most part, due to the reduction and closure of manufacturing facilities in the UK.
The figure below shows just how dramatic that change is.
Source: DECC 2012
Carbon emissions in Middlesbrough fell for housing and transport by over 160,000 tonnes per year from 2005, equivalent to CO2 emissions from burning over 620 railcars’ worth of coal. There are concerted efforts on behalf of the council around carbon mitigation and energy saving which have very likely played an important role in that change.
However, the vast majority of the reduction in CO2 emissions came from industrial decline. Anecdotally, the closure of major manufacturing plants like Corus Steel in 2010 and Croda Chemicals would have had a large impact on the emissions of the city. Overall, employment in manufacturing fell in Middlesbrough by roughly 20 percent since the onset of the recession. That speaks to the impact of this recession on CO2 emissions from industry.
But, the Corus Steel plant has restarted their operations in Middlesbrough, so some of the reductions the city has seen will rise again.
Reducing local carbon emissions is a worthwhile and valuable goal. But, the sustainable successes need to come from mitigation and energy reduction efforts rather than being a side effect of temporary and localised industrial decline. Else, when the growth engine gets going again, the fumes will rise as well.