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Germany has cut greenhouse gas emissions faster than the UK since the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming, further undermining the Sunak government’s claim to global climate leadership.
Germany’s emissions have fallen by 17 per cent between 2016 and 2022 while the UK’s fell by 14 per cent over the same period, official data published by each country shows.
The UK record was better over the period since 1990 when its emissions peaked, with a reduction of 48.7 per cent compared to Germany’s 40 per cent.
However, the UK’s slowing pace relative to peers adds to concerns that its progress is stalling as ministers grapple with the challenges of cutting emissions from heating and industry.
The trend also undercuts the UK’s oft-repeated claim that it is “cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country”.
Richard Black, senior associate at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think-tank in London, said: “Despite some impressive rhetoric, the last few UK administrations have allowed the UK’s lead in the G7 table to slip.
“That’s a tragedy for British citizens, given that recent events show clearly that energy efficiency and renewables are the route to low energy bills and freedom from energy blackmail, as well as to a safe climate.”
The UK in 2019 became the first leading economy to put in place a legally binding target to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
The reduction since 1990 remains ahead of other G7 economies, with most of the progress so far coming from pushing coal out of the electricity mix. Coal’s share in UK generation has fallen from 80 per cent in 1990 to 1.5 per cent in 2022.
But ministers now face the potentially greater challenge of increasing clean electricity supplies while also getting households and industry to switch gas boilers and petrol cars for cleaner equivalents.
Last month, the Climate Change Committee, the government’s independent climate advisers, said the UK had “lost its global leadership” on climate action and was making “worryingly slow” progress. It warned of a “lack of strategic direction” around home heating in particular.
Lisa Fischer, programme lead for energy systems at think-tank E3G, said: “The UK has historically been fast at reducing emissions in the power sector by retiring its coal fleet earlier than many other G7 countries.
“But the world has moved too and it is no longer sufficient for the UK to rest on those laurels. The UK is now seeing the results of years of inaction on climate policy,” she added.
The EU is also facing concerns about its progress, with its auditors last month raising doubts about available funding to meet its targets to cut emissions by 55 per cent by 2030.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak told MPs last week he was “proud and confident” in the UK’s record in cutting emissions, and other economies catching up was a positive trend.
“We have decarbonised faster than any of those other blocs, so other countries are having to catch up. That is a good thing, which we welcome,” he said.
In response to the data showing the UK lead sliding, the government maintained that it was proud of its record as a world leader on net zero.
“The UK is cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and attracted billions of investment into renewables, which now account for 40 per cent of our electricity,” it said.
Additional reporting by Jim Pickard