What emissions have UK Local Authorities been measuring against? NI186

The Climate Change Act 2008 establishes a long-term framework to tackle climate change. The act aims to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy in the UK through unilateral legally binding emissions reduction targets. This means a reduction of at least 34% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050. A fourth budget period has recently been proposed which would see reductions of 60% by 2030.

In this blog, I have tried to represent the broad interplay between UK and international emissions as well as the various national CO₂ datasets in the diagram below:

National Indicator 186 Context

I am now going to explain the diagram and each component.

The dotted box on the right contains all the emissions that are covered by the Climate Change Acts 34% target for the third budget period. The figure shows that international shipping, international aviation, and embedded emissions (in the way of imports) are not covered under the 34% target. This figure shows NI186 as a sub set of the LACO₂ data set. Below the LACO₂ data set is the corresponding LACO₂ equivalents. The figure highlights the issue of embodied energy/CO₂ of imports and exports, the need for international cooperation in tackling emissions such as International shipping and Aviation, and Local Authorities responsibilities in the broader context. The diagram is not to scale.

NI186 – This dataset is a subset of the LACO₂ emissions which covers CO₂ emissions only. This set of emissions has been reduced to exclude emissions from sources which it is felt that LAs have minimal influence over. The omitted locally produced emissions are motorways, diesel rail, emissions covered under European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS) besides point source electricity, and Land Use and Land Use Change (LULUC). Until recently, Local Authorities were required to report annually against the NI186 indicator. Even though this requirement is no longer the case, the indicator is used widely to underpin local carbon abatement strategies, participating Covenant of Mayors obligations, and the Friends of the Earth ‘Get Serious’ campaign. It also generally forms the basis for VantagePoint carbon scenario modelling – though we have used other baselines.

LACO₂ – This data set covers all the emissions in the NI186 plus motorways, diesel rail, EUETS, and LULUC. It is a CO₂ only data set so does not contain any of the other six green house gasses (CO₂ equivalents) such as methane and nitrous oxide. Approximately 70% of the EUETS emissions are covered in the NI186 emissions under domestic, commercial and industrial point source electricity usage. The remaining 30% is included in LACO₂ and refers to other large emitters participating under the EUETS.

Equivalents – This is the part of the local emissions which are not included in the above two datasets. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly the CO₂ component makes up a large majority of the emissions reported under the above two indicators, secondly, in general when CO₂ emissions are reduced through energy efficiency, energy conservation, or renewable energy generation, the equivalents are reduced, and finally, these emissions require more effort to measure than CO₂ alone.

Aviation – The UK national atmospheric emissions inventory shows that emissions from domestic and international aviation assigned to the UK (on the basis of bunker fuel sales) accounted for some 5.5% of UK CO₂ emissions in 2008. 90% of these emissions will now be covered under the EU ETS as of 2012.

Domestic Aviation – So far the EUETS has set a reduction commitment of 5% from 2013 onwards for both domestic and international aviation. This may be revisited as part of the general review for the Aviation ETS Directive in 2014. It is unclear whether the 20% EUETS reduction by 2020 will apply to aviation given the previous point. The Low Carbon Transition Plan (LCTP) states ‘the Government announced a target to reduce UK aviation carbon dioxide emissions to below 2005 levels by 2050, despite forecast growth in passenger demand’. This target is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world, and implies that aviation will be paying a lot for emissions to be abated elsewhere in the EUETS.

International Aviation – International aviation is not covered under the Carbon Budgets. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been given the responsibility to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. In October 2010 an historic agreement was reached between the 190 contracting states (including UK) to cap international aviation emissions at 2020 levels. Along with this 2020 cap, it has been agreed that an improvement to fuel efficiency of 2% per year will be achieved. Europe has further committed both domestic and international aviation to the EUETS scheme. Under this scheme the cap to be applied to the aviation sector within the EUETS in 2012 will be 97% of average annual aviation CO₂ emissions in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and from 2013 onwards the cap is set at 95% of average emissions over these years.

International Shipping – According to the LCTP, flights and journeys by sea that begin in the UK but end in a foreign country (and vice versa) are classed as ‘international aviation’ and ‘international shipping’ and are not counted in our carbon budgets and emissions reductions targets for the time being, due to the lack of a globally agreed methodology to allocate responsibility for these journeys to individual countries.

Imports versus Exports – The embodied carbon in imports to the UK should arguably be added to UK’s official carbon footprint. Britain’s footprint is 11 tons CO₂e per year per person. DEFRA reports that the embodied carbon in imports is approximately 6.2 tons CO₂e per year per person. Another estimate, by the science journal Nature, reported that in 2001 imported embodied emissions in the UK accounted for approximately 37% of UK emissions while the embodied CO₂e of exports was approximately 22%. This gap has definitely increased over the past 9 years through increased trade with China.

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