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UK Leads G7 in the Combined Metric of Economic Growth + Carbon Cuts

by John Brian Shannon

A new Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit report confirms that Britain has been the most successful G7 nation over the last 25 years on the combined metric of growing its economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the 25-years since 1992 when clean air and the corresponding lowering of healthcare spending became an important policy for the United Kingdom, the country grew its per capita GDP by 130% while lowering GHG emissions 33% — proving that a country can simultaneously grow their economy AND lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In the same timeframe, Japan grew its per-capita GDP by 83% while increasing its per-capita emissions by 10.5% — making it the worst performer of all the G7 nations. (Not to pick on Japan which has the most difficult population pyramid demographic problem of any nation on the planet)

“It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm.

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.

There are signs that these successes are now transferring to the rest of the world. Globally, emissions have been flat for three years while world GDP has grown by 8%. But science indicates this isn’t enough to fulfil the objective of the UN Convention and prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change – for that, emissions need to start falling soon. This study should give confidence that with good policies, it’s achievable.” — Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit

And in the United Kingdom, Scotland has led the way on the switch from coal to renewable energy and it rightly deserves much of the praise handed to the UK over the ongoing clean air success story, while England and Wales deserve much of the credit for growing the UK economy. As usual, Northern Ireland is ‘holding its own’ and although it is presently caught in the middle of an election cycle it seems that it might ramp-up to follow Scotland’s environmental success, post-election.

Scotland sets 50% renewable energy target (BBC)

Pre-Brexit, UK Leads G7 In ‘Conscious Decoupling’ Of Economic Growth & Carbon Cuts (CleanTechnica)

The Road to Decoupling: 21 Countries Are Reducing Carbon Emissions While Growing GDP (World Resources Institute)


By far, the biggest reason UK emissions have dropped in every decade since WWII is a HUGE shift away from coal. At one time almost 100% of Britain’s electricity was sourced by brown or black coal. Some of which was replaced by hydro-power, and later, by nuclear. Eventually, even more coal-fired capacity was replaced by natural gas, and most recently, by renewables.

The inexorable march away from coal-fired generation in the UK has resulted in cleaner air. It is by far the biggest factor in Britain’s ongoing clean air success story.

Still, it’s not enough progress. Scotland has set the standard that the rest of the UK should follow — which will take strong leadership in the House of Commons.


The Way Forward for Clean Air, Lower Healthcare Spending, and a Thriving Economy for Britain

There are many ways to accomplish those goals and everything has its own particular cost. But two pathways jump out as the most beneficial per pound sterling.

ONE: Continue to replace coal-fired power generation with any other power generator. Yes, everything else burns cleaner than coal! Burning home heating fuel is cleaner than coal. Natural gas-fired power generation can be up to 1-million times cleaner than burning some grades of brown coal. Even upgrading coal-fired power generation from brown coal ‘lignite’ fuel to black coal ‘anthracite’ fuel results in astonishing improvements in air quality.

Fortunately, this is the (unevenly applied) default in the United Kingdom, which, when combined with the solid and thoughtful policies of Scotland and Wales, results in cleaner air, lower healthcare costs, and boosts economic growth via lower energy prices.

Record UK wind generation lowers electricity prices (Power Engineering)

TWO: In addition to everything mentioned above, the other low-hanging fruit leading towards cleaner air, to lower healthcare spending, and to boost economic output (by lowering energy costs) is via energy-efficiency.

Prime Minister Theresa May should recognize that no matter how cleanly we can generate one GigaWatt of electricity — energy-efficiency savings (demand reduction) that are equal to one GigaWatt are many times cleaner — and energy-efficiency improvements are typically simple and cost-effective.

Imagine a UK government policy that lowers primary energy consumption (demand) by 30% across-the-board over the next 5-years.

That’s possible with the right policy, and infinitely cheaper than adding the exact same amount of energy production capacity to the grid.

Cheaper, by orders of magnitude. In fact, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant construction could be cancelled AND other proposed power plant projects could be shelved for at least a decade with that much efficiency added to the grid.

Simple programmes get the best results

If the UK government added an energy-efficiency programme shared between three government entities, costs and (importantly) accolades would be shared.

The Department of Energy & Climate Change, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, would gain support from voters and expats by supporting a national energy-efficiency programme consisting of a £100 per capita credit on energy-saving electronics and materials.

For a business that employs 5 people, that’s a one-time credit of (up to) £500 towards energy-efficiency at that business, which will buy A TON of efficiency and thereby lower energy consumption/energy bills for that company.

All else being equal; Are those business owners more likely to vote Conservative in the next election? I would have to say, Yes.

Obviously, those 5 employees also live near their workplace and use electricity at home. Therefore, they too should receive a one-time (up to) £100 per capita credit at the hardware store for the purchase of LED or other energy-saving lights, smart thermostats, weather-stripping, insulation, receptacle gaskets and other energy-saving electronics or materials.

Each of those 5 people will now save significant amounts on their monthly electricity bill.

Again, all else being equal; Are those homeowners or tenants more likely to vote Conservative in the next election? The answer is likely to be affirmative if the present government decides to save each one of them, tens or hundreds of pounds per year on their annual electricity bill.

It sounds expensive until you consider the cost of adding 30 GigaWatts to the UK grid to cover wasted energy vs. spending a much smaller amount to conserve the same amount of energy.

There is simply no comparison. Energy-efficiency wins every time, and is dirt cheap in relation to the costs of building new power generation capacity.

A £100 per capita energy-efficiency credit is the way forward for clean air, lower healthcare spending, and a thriving economy for Britain (via lower energy costs) and pound for pound, nothing else comes close to accomplishing those goals at such a comparatively low spend.