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Where is the UK on its energy transition?​

UK emissions and energy mix, now and in the future

The UK has a legal target to achieve net zero by 2050.

The target is a pledge to transform the UK economy and prioritise green growth. Billed as the biggest economic transformation since the industrial revolution, it is a challenge that calls for a concerted effort from society, businesses, academia, financial institutions and government.​

Focused on UK greenhouse gas emissions and their main source, our energy system, we look at the progress the UK has made to reach net zero since the target was set in 2019. We ask: Where does our energy come from? How do we use it? How green is our energy? ​

Our analysis shows that we have come a long way, but we need to go much further to fully transition to a green energy system. ​

Find out below which sectors need to reduce emissions faster and how we fare on UK targets to decarbonise electricity.

UK emissions from energy use


UK greenhouse gas emissions have halved since 1990​

Source: UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ

1. CO2e is used for CO2 equivalent and emissions for greenhouse gas emissions for brevity.



Over 80% of UK emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy use


Energy related emissions made up 82% of total UK emissions in 2022. They come from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat for industry and buildings (residential, commercial and public), and to transport people and goods.2

Less than 20% of emissions were non-energy related and came from land use, F-gases, waste and agriculture in 2022.3

Source: UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ

2. Transport covers road transport, railways, domestic shipping and aviation but excludes international shipping and aviation.

3. F-gases are potent greenhouse gases used mainly for refrigeration, aerosols and heat resistant coating. Emissions from waste are associated landfill gases. Emissions from agriculture mainly come from enteric fermentation associated with farmed animals, animal waste and directly from the soil.

4. We use the Climate Change Committee classifications. Industry includes industrial process emissions, which technically are not energy related. Agriculture also includes stationary and mobile combustion, which is technically energy related.



Energy supply and industry related emissions declined significantly since 1990, but decarbonisation in transport and buildings has been more modest


Energy supply and industry related emissions declined significantly (72% and 61% respectively) and accounted for most emission reduction since the 1990s.5

In comparison, emissions from buildings and transport declined modestly (28% and 13% respectively) over the same period.

Source: UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ5.

5. Energy supply excludes emissions from refineries, which are included in industrial emissions​.



Energy supply emissions fell as coal consumption and North Sea oil and gas production declined


The Climate Change Act 2008 mandated the phase out of coal-fired power stations in the UK. ​As a result, emissions from electricity supply dropped by nearly three-quarters between 1990 and 2022.​

Emissions from offshore oil and gas activities in the North Sea also fell since 2004 as reserves gradually depleted. ​

The next phase of decarbonising the energy supply needs to focus on substituting natural gas with low carbon sources in power generation.

Source: UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ


Industrial emissions fell as we closed some energy intensive businesses, switched from coal to natural gas and electricity, and improved energy efficiency


The highest emitting industrials sectors are iron and steel, refining, cement and lime, and chemicals. Together they account for 52% of industrial emissions (15%, 18%, 6% and 14% respectively).

Industrial emissions declined for several reasons. Closing some iron and steel, refining, and cement and lime businesses meant that emissions declined as production reduced. ​

In contrast, emissions in chemicals manufacturing declined even though production increased. This is because many facilities switched from coal or oil to less polluting natural gas and/or electricity, and increased energy efficiency.​

UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ; 
Iron and steel production by year, StatsWales; 
Refinery throughput and output of petroleum products, [Table 3.12]; 
Cement Industry Statistics, MPA Cement;
CCC Progress Report to Parliament [Figure 6.3]; 
Index of Production Time Series for the UK production industries



UK emissions have so far remained below the limits advised by the Climate Change Committee, but the target for the mid-2030s – Carbon Budget 6 – drops sharply


The UK Climate Change Act 2008 established the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent public body, to advise the UK (including devolved) governments on carbon targets.​

The CCC sets five-yearly carbon budgets (CBs). These are legally binding limits on the total amount of emissions the UK can generate over a five-year period. ​

The UK met the first three CBs quite comfortably, and the CCC has increased confidence that the UK will meet CB4 too.​

However, the CCC’s concerns have grown over the UK’s ability to meet CB5 and even more so CB6.​

UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ; 
Carbon budgets factsheet; 
Carbon Budget Delivery Plan



Emissions need to decline by more than half in the next decade, particularly in sectors where consumer behaviour will be crucial to drive decarbonisation, such as buildings and transport


UK emissions reduced by 37% between 2008 and 2022, since the introduction of the 2008 Climate Change Act.

If the UK met the stated proposals and policy ambitions outlined in the government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, CB6 would be met with a buffer of 7 Mt CO2e, achieving a five-year annual average of 186 Mt CO2e. Reaching this means emissions drop 54% from 2022 to CB6. ​

Most emission reduction came from phasing out coal in energy supply and industry and closing some energy intensive industrial facilities. While we still need to reduce emissions from energy supply and industry, we need to make the biggest reduction leaps in the buildings and transport sectors. Emissions from these sectors combined need to decline more than twice as fast as they do now. For example, in transport emissions dropped 20 Mt CO2e between 2008 and 2022, but by CB6 they need to decline by 61 Mt CO2e. For this to happen, consumers need to consistently make sustainable choices. ​

In buildings, this means replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps. In transport, this means replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with those that run on electricity, hydrogen and sustainable fuel.

Source: UK greenhouse gas emissions [Table 1.2], DESNZ



UK energy mix


Fossil fuels power most of the UK but low carbon electricity is increasing


Nearly 80% of UK energy still comes from fossil fuel sources, mainly natural gas and oil. Most of this is used for heat and transport, rather than energy supply.

​However, in the last two decades, the share of low carbon electricity combined with biofuels for heat has increased from 10% to 21%.

​Reducing consumption of fossil fuels and increasing the proportion of low carbon energy sources is the next challenge for the energy sector.

Source: UK inland energy consumption [ET 1.2]



Fossil fuels make up the vast majority of UK energy imports


Natural gas replaced coal for heat and power and North Sea oil and gas reserves are gradually depleting. This led to the UK changing from a net exporter of energy to a net importer in 2004. ​

The UK imported 37% of its total energy supply in 2022. As the pie chart shows, 92% of net fuel exports and imports were fossil fuels and 8% bioenergy and waste.​

Source: Aggregate energy balances (DUKES 1.1)

6. Petroleum products include ethane, LPG, naphtha, aviation spirit, motor spirit, aviation turbine fuel, burning oil, diesel, gas oil, fuel oil, petroleum coke and ‘other’ product.



Most electricity is from low carbon sources, the largest being wind


Renewable power generation has increased 18-fold in the UK since 2011.7​

Renewables, together with other low carbon sources such as nuclear and bioenergy, accounted for 57% of electricity supply in 2022. ​

Wind is the dominant UK renewable energy source. Onshore and offshore wind made up 27% of electricity supply in 2022. ​

Nuclear power declined 45% since 2000 due to power stations closing because of their age and technical challenges, but growth in wind and bioenergy more than made up for the shortfall. ​

The share of natural gas used for UK power generation is expected to decrease further as more renewables are added to the mix.

Source: Fuel used in electricity generation [ET 5.1], DESNZ

7. Renewable power generation includes onshore and offshore wind, solar, wave/tidal and hydro.



Electricity use in transport is still modest 


Electrifying the UK economy and removing fossil fuels from electricity supply are the main pathways to net zero. ​

Currently, electricity accounts for 29% of energy use in buildings - mainly to power electric goods (including heaters) in peoples’ homes, businesses and public spaces. Buildings are also the biggest consumers of electricity across all sectors.

Electricity also supplies nearly a third of energy used by industry – mostly to operate various appliances, including a wide range of machinery. ​

But electricity made up only 1% of energy used in transport in 2022. A further 5% comes from biofuels to meet blending obligations, but 94% is still from petroleum products such as petrol and diesel. ​

Reducing emissions in transport requires replacing nearly 37 million cars, vans and heavy duty vehicles with those that run on electricity, hydrogen and sustainable fuels.

Natural gas, and to a small extent oil and coal, play a key role to heat buildings and industry today. Replacing these requires fitting electric heat pumps in nearly 24 million homes, and modifying tens of thousands of industrial heat and power processes to run on hydrogen or electricity.

Source: Energy Consumption in the UK, DESNZ



The UK set ambitious targets for low carbon energy

We have some way to go to achieve the UK’s low carbon energy targets. Currently we have 14 GW of solar capacity against a target of 70 GW by 2035. We also have 13 GW of offshore wind capacity and need to increase this to 50 GW by 2035. Our target for nuclear is 24 GW against a current capacity of 6 GW. The UK has ambition to increase its limited existing green hydrogen capacity to 5 GW by 2030, while also establishing 5 GW of blue hydrogen and 1.5 Mt sustainable aviation fuel capacity by 2030.

​Currently, the UK has no targets for onshore wind, biomass and other renewables and storage.

Listen to Alistair Dormer (Hitachi Energy) and Susan McDonald (Energy Transition Lead, Deloitte) share their views on The Green Room podcast.

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