The idea that cutting carbon emissions damages a country’s economy needs to be consigned to history once and for all, according to a major new study that reveals how the UK has delivered the deepest carbon cuts and the strongest economic growth of any G7 nation over the past 25 years.
The study from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) analyses the GDP growth and emissions reductions delivered by G7 nations since they signed the UN Climate Convention at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
It concludes that Britons have become richer, on average, than citizens of any other G7 nation, while also reducing their average carbon footprint more than any other G7 nation.
Overall, UK per capita greenhouse gas emissions fell 33 per cent between 1992 and 2014, the most recent year for which data is available for all G7 nations. However, GDP over the same period grew 130 per cent.
As a result the UK’s carbon intensity, the measure of the amount of CO2 it takes to produce one unit of GDP, fell 53.9 per cent over the period.
The report also confirms the decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions is firmly established across industrialised nations. Germany’s carbon intensity fell by more than 45 per cent over the period, while France’s fell 42 per cent and the USA’s fell 39 per cent.
The only laggard amongst the G7 was Japan, where GDP has grown 83 per cent, while per-capita emissions have also grown by 10.5 per cent.
Critics of climate action have argued the UK has managed to cut its carbon emissions by deindustrialising its economy and exporting heavy industries and their emissions to other countries.
But the ECIU report reveals this critique is now badly outdated. “An aspect of the UK story is that it has ‘exported’ emissions more than other G7 nations – in other words, a greater proportion of emissions produced from goods and services consumed in the UK are incurred abroad. However, this trend appears to have stopped with the financial crisis, with research indicating the proportion of emissions associated with UK consumption ‘outsourced’ has not grown since 2010.”
Since 2010 UK per-capita emissions have continued to fall faster than any other G7 nation except Italy, meaning Britain’s per-capita ‘imported’ emissions are at almost exactly the same level as in the mid-1990s, despite per-capita GDP having more than doubled over the period.
“It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm,” said ECIU director Richard Black. “As this report shows, if you have consistent policymaking and cross-party consensus, it’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time. Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7 – but we’ve clearly been the best of the bunch.”
The report also details how the decoupling trend is now spreading far beyond the G7 with global GDP having grown eight per cent over the past three years while greenhouse gas emissions have remained flat.
Lord Michael Howard, who as UK environment secretary helped negotiate the UN Convention in 1992, urged more world leaders to embrace ambitious decarbonisation policies.
“Before we signed the UN Climate Convention 25 years ago, Sir John Major and I were firmly of the view that reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions would not harm our economy,” he said. “This analysis shows that we were right and the doom-mongers wrong.”
However, he warned emissions were still not falling fast enough to avert the risks presented by climate change.
The report will be released today to coincide with fresh calls from the Mission 2020 initiative for urgent action to accelerate the pace of global emissions reductions prior to 2020.
The initiative is led by former UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres and brings together governments, academics, and the private sector to explore how to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement.