Energy and Emissions

This data is given under the bold article headings below. Tables and sections are numbered according to the source documents. Footnotes may be listed at the end of an article.

Energy Demand and Emissions Targets in the United Kingdom

Basic Energy and CO2 Emissions Databritanwatch-005



Energy Demand and Emissions Targets in the United Kingdom

Right up to the commissioning of the post-war nuclear power stations for electricity production, starting with the Magnox stations in the 1960s (of which the last – Wylfa – is due to close in 2010) Britain has been almost 100% dependent on fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) for its energy.

By the mid-1960s, coal supplied about 62% of UK primary energy requirements or 145 Mtoes, the remainder being supplied by oil imports (34%) and the non-fossil sources of nuclear and hydro (4%). Slightly more (1½%) of coal was produced (net) than consumed, so overall the country produced about two-thirds of its requirements. The current (2007)[1] position is summarised in Table 1:

Table 1: Current (2007) UK Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions
Usage by economic sector Millions of tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoes)[2] Electricity Equivalent (TWh) CO2 Equivalent Millions of tonnes
Electricity Generation:
fossil based 60 280 186
nuclear 0 90 0
hydro and wind 0 10 0
Total Electricity   380 186
Total fossil use excluding electricity generation1 166 2092 514
Total final fossil energy demand & CO2 emissions 226 2472 656
Total Energy Demand 2852

1.1 Supply and Demand for Fossil Energy in the mid-2000s

Table 2[3] shows UK production and consumption averaged over the period 2000-05 in millions of tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoes).

Table 2: UK Fossil Fuels 2000-05
Fuel Consumption Production Exports (imports)
Oil 75 126 51
Gas 95 81 (14)
Coal 52 17 (35)
Total 222 224 2

Thus the UK was slightly in surplus as a result of North Sea oil and gas production, more than off-setting the 88% contraction in coal production compared with the 1960s.

Comparing Tables 1 and 2 it may be seen that nuclear accounted for about 23% of electricity output in the period, while hydroelectricity and wind accounted for about 2.6%, saving about 19 Mtoes and 2.1 Mtoes in imports of fossil fuels respectively.

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1.2 Supply and Demand for fossil fuels in the future

The single dominating fact is that the UK’s indigenous sources of oil and gas are set to decline at a rate which is likely to see gas exhausted by 2020 (it is already in pronounced decline from the Table 2 figure) and oil by about 2027, depending on rates of extraction between now and then[4].

If UK fossil fuel production were only to halve by 2017, and demand were substantially unchanged, the import requirement would be about 110 Mtoes. The current cost (2009) of a tonne of oil is around $500 or £300 at $1.65 to £1. A conservative view of the oil price for 2017 would be $100 per barrel, $700 per tonne. At $1.5 to £1 this would give an import bill of £51 billion, nearly doubling the current trading deficit of £60 billion, which is more than 4% of GDP, previously regarded as economically unsustainable for more than 2-3 years.

2 UK Emissions reduction targets

In 2008 Parliament passed the Climate Change Act (2008) (CCA) and the Government published its Renewable Energy Strategy (RES) on 15 July 2009. Among other things the CCA and RES commit Britain to achieving:

  • an 80% reduction of gaseous emissions by reference to 1990 levels, by 2050 (approximately 600 million tonnes CO­2 equivalent)[5]
  • a 15% further reduction in gaseous emissions by 2020, by reference to 2008 (approximately 115 million tonnes CO2 equivalent).

Emissions are around 85% CO2. One tonne of coal, one tonne of oil, one tonne of gas generate respectively 3.4, 3.1 and 2.8 tonnes of CO2 and another 10% of other gases, mostly nitric oxide. So the only way that a significant reduction in emissions can be achieved is by a proportional reduction in combustion of the fossil fuels, an objective which from the figures in section 1.2 is clearly recommended on economic and security grounds if on no other.

Originally the EU and the British government set a 50% reduction from the 1990 figure (770 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) as the emissions reduction target for 2050, or about 40% below 2007 (650). Subsequently, under pressure from the UK Green lobby, the British government unilaterally set 80% below 1990, or 70% below 2007. Table 3 sets out the implications of these targets.

Table 3: Implications of 50% and 80% emissions reductions below 1990 levels (770 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Reductions from 2007 (650) M tonnes of CO2 equivalent Remaining non-electrical fossil demand Electricity generation with total energy demand reductions
  Millions of tonnes of CO2 equiv Millions of tonnes of oil equiv Mtoes (KWh)
from electrical generation from other fossil uses[6] TWh 0% 10% 20%
50% of
1990 target
265 45
1522 950 700 450
80% of 1990 target 496 45
672 1800 1560 1310

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Table 4: What Renewables and Nuclear Reactors can do
  Generate per annum TWh Approx Cost £K per tonne CO2 saved p.a. % of UK Energy demand CO2 emissions saved % Mtoes
10,000 2.5 MW wind turbines 50 1100 2 18
50 1.6 GW nuclear reactors 600 600 25 220
1 12 mile Severn barrage 17 3700 0.75 6

The fundamental messages of Tables 1-4 is that only something like a 60 GW nuclear programme over a 25-40 year period has any chance of meeting a 50% CO2 reduction from 1990 target (40% from 2007), let alone an 80% reduction.

The 50% target would require a near doubling of total electricity generation from its present 380 TWh if we assume a reduction in total energy demand of 10%. This target in itself would be impossible to meet if the projected 16% increase in total population by 2030 should come to pass. The CCA 80% reduction target is impossible to meet in any circumstances without an unimaginable reduction in total energy demand of around 50%, which would bring about a collapse of industry and a consequent savage reduction in living standards.

Table 4 shows that building 10,000 additional wind turbines would have a negligible impact on CO2 emissions reduction. By the diversion of huge resources, the wind policy will imperil the UK’s ability to provide secure energy for its people and their industries, as well as disfiguring huge tracts of countryside by the thousands of miles of cabling needed to connect 10,000 windmills (both on-shore and off-shore) into the grid (Ref 1).


(1) S F Bush and D R MacDonald, Maintenance of United kingdom Electricity Supplies to the year 2020 and Proposals for a Secure Energy Strategy to 2050, © Prosyma Research Ltd, 12th August 2009.




  • [1] i.e. for Transport 56, Housing 41, Industry 58, Public Sector 11 Mtoes (millions of tonnes of oil equivalent).
  • [2] These are thermal equivalents, i.e. 1.24 tonnes of coal and 0.91 tonnes of gas yield the same heat on combustion as 1 tonne of oil.
  • [3]Figures taken from NSO 2007 Abstracts Tables 22.4-22.7.
  • [4]NSO Environmental Table 13.2 shows exhaustion of oil and gas by 2020.
  • [5] CO2 equivalent for a gas means that emission which would have the same “greenhouse” effect as CO2 as calculated by a formula provided by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • [6] From 2007 total of 166: Transport 56, Housing 41, Industry 58, Public Sector 11.

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Basic Energy and CO2 Emissions Data

Table 1: Energy Input for UK
Fossil Sources Millions of tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe)
  NSO 2004 figures [2006 revised]
Coal 38 38
Oil 75 88
Gas 95 95
Subtotal 208 221
Nuclear 19 19
Others 2 2
Total 229 242

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Table 2: Energy End-User consumption by sectors
Sector Subsector Mtoe Mtoe
Industry (principally manufacturing)   37
Transport: Road 41  
  Rail 1  
  Water 1  
  Air 12  
  Total Transport 55 55
Other commercial services   13
Public sector   8
Domestic (heating & lighting)   47
Total end-user all sectors   160
Losses (electricity generation & distribution)   69
Total inputs (Table 1)   229

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Table 4: UK Production of Fossil Fuels (2000-2020)
Average taken as year
Oil 126 50*
Coal 31 31
Natural Gas 81 30**



Table 5: Imports (Exports) of Fossil Fuels (2000-2020)
Average taken as year
Oil (38) 38
Gas 14 65
Coal 81 7***
Total (17) 110



* SFB estimate from declared power and probable North Sea reserves (remaining life span is quoted as 12 years in Energy White Paper

** Energy White Paper (gas life span quoted as 12 years)

*** On assumption that existing coal-fired stations will still be running in 2015-20

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Table 8: Car and Aircraft CO2 emissions
Vehicle Fuel Consumption CO2 Emissions
  mpg litres/100km Litres per 100 passenger km* gms/km gms per passenger km*
Small car (1400cc) 41.5 6.8 4.2 160 100
Medium car (2000cc) 32 8.8 5.5 420 138
Boeing 747-400 14,400 3.6** 34,000 200
Boeing 747-8 (design) 12,000 3.0** 25,600 150



* Based on 1.6 people per car journey.
** Based on 170 passengers per air journey and Boeing data for 400 passengers.

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Table 9: Emissions per UK person per annum
Activity CO2 Emission per person tonnes/annum UK Emissions tonnes/annum in millions
Breathing (normal activities) 0.25 15
Travel by road (Table 2)* 2.1 127
Travel by air (Table 2)* 0.6 37
Home heating and power (Table 2) 2.4 146
Industry, commerce and public sector   385
Total UK   710

Comparing (say) a flight from London to Geneva (800 km) with a car journey (1,000 km), the medium car with 2 people would emit 121 kg per person. A Boeing 757 would emit 110 kg per person if 70% full.



* Private and commercial usage.

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Table 12: International Oil Production and CO2 Comparisons
  Tonnes per annum in Millions
World production of oil 1,000
UK production of oil 110
Saudi production of oil 418
World emission of CO2 24,000
USA 6,000
Per capita 19.7
China 2,900
Per capita 2.3
UK 720
Per capita 12.0

The UK emits about 3% of the world’s emission of CO2 or one quarter of China’s with about the same Gross Domestic Product.

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