UK Has Robust Emissions Reporting Systems

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard UK Country Managers Thomas Christensen and Gwenyth Wren

Best Organizational Source: Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy


BEIS (Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy) provides estimates of UK territorial greenhouse gas emissions, meaning emissions that occur within the UK’s borders. BEIS publishes an emissions report annually which provides annual and quarterly estimates of UK territorial greenhouse gas emissions by source sector. For the purposes of emissions reporting, greenhouse gas emissions are divided into the following sectors: energy supply, business, transport, public, residential, agriculture, industrial processes, land use, and waste management.

The UK’s emissions reporting mechanisms can be described as robust. BEIS revises provisional energy use data each year in light of improvements in data collection and the methodology used, while the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published detailed comparisons between various different emissions calculation methodologies (BEIS adopts the Climate Change Act-aligned methodology). Two areas cited by the ONS where data are lacking are emissions from peatland and international shipping and aviation (internationally agreed measuring rules lacking). The following table highlights varying estimates of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions:

The figure highlights a major gap within the UK’s methodology. While emissions from goods and services exported from within the UK are included (according to the BEIS emission reports) those that occur abroad and imported into the UK, including from international aviation, shipping, and supply chains, are not. Bearing in mind that the UK had a trade deficit (imports exceeding exports) of over $224 billion in 2019, this represents a significant share of emissions. According to a report by WWF, in 2017, the UK’s hidden import emissions would actually double the official reports both from BEIS and the International Energy Agency (IEA), where in the last 20 years, the 40% reduction in emissions routinely touted by the UK government would be closer to a 15% reduction the overall carbon footprint (including imported emissions).

As mentioned in our August 4 2021 post, the UK doesn’t count the carbon footprint of international travel and imported goods and carbon border adjustments (carbon taxes on imports – to take into account the carbon generated by their manufacture) have yet to be imposed as well as more stringent border requirements on the efficiency, recyclability and sustainability of imported goods.

The UK does not to rely on external sources to count its emissions, as BEIS, and overall, the methodology developed to calculate emissions statistics is quite credible, robust, and thorough. The Office for National Statistics publishes the methodology they use, as well as the raw data. This transparency leads to a high degree of trust and shows the quality of the information input. However, its methods contain flaws. The reason one would need to look at external sources is to track the emissions from imports. External sources, such as WWF and Carbon Brief can function as watchdogs to highlight such flaws—that the UK is only tracking domestic emissions, revealing that ambitious reduction figures are not necessarily accurate. This is unsurprising as international practice is to track territorial emissions, but this allows countries to offset their emissions onto others through trade flows, and supply chains.

Energy supply is most accurately monitored among sectors when it comes to its impact on climate. Carbon dioxide emissions from this sector were estimated to be 79.0 Mt in 2020, a decrease of 11.9% (10.6 Mt) compared to 2019. The data shows there has been a long term decrease in energy emissions mainly as a result of new electricity generation with a switch from coal to the growth of use of renewable energy sources, combined with greater efficiency. In 2020 coal made up 2.6% of fuel used for electricity generation, compared to 65.3% in 1990.

UK emissions monitoring bodies are also effective in tracking the transport sector. In 2020, territorial carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector were 97.2 Mt, 19.6% (23.7 Mt) lower than in 2019, and 22.5% lower than in 1990. In 2020, transport accounted for 29.8% of all territorial carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 33.1% in 2019. The large majority of emissions from transport are from road transport in the UK. Something interesting to note that the data shows is transport emissions grew from 1990’s and peaked in 2007; this continual growth is likely attributed to an increase of vehicles on the road. Emissions from this sector have since fallen, driven mainly by improvements in new car fuel efficiency as well as increased reliance on public transportation.

Quality and reliability of the climate emissions data produced by the country:

Rating: **** Outstanding

Four Stars (****): Outstanding

Three stars (***): Good

Two stars (**): Fair

One star (*): Poor



Georgina Smalldridge (responsible statistician)


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