UK Government fallacy: overclaiming the reduction in UK CO2 emissions

The UK Government persistently claims it has achieved a fall in UK CO2 emissions of over 40% since 1990, but the real fall is only about 11%.

The UK government has continued with its claims despite repeated criticism, which suggests that the fallacy is a deliberate attempt to deceive.

How does the UK Government get its figures?

The figures claimed by the UK Government are obtained by

Examples of the UK Government's claims

What are the actual figures?

The chart shows the changes in UK greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. It is an edited version of a chart published by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [3]:
The actual fall including aviation but excluding shipping can be estimated as 11% (from 990Mt in 1990 to 880Mt in 2016) - see Appendix.

Why should imports and exports be included?

Over the last three decades, much manufacturing of items sold in the UK has been transferred from the UK to overseas, especially China and India. The items are manufactured only because of the purchasing in the UK. It is clearly of no benefit to tackling the climate emergency to merely transfer manufacturing from one country to another - the world total emissions is unaffected, or might actually increase due to the transport emissions.


The UK Government puts much emphasis on the UK "leading the world" in emission reduction - but it is not true. It is major fallacy on an issue of vital importance. The false claims have continued despite the objections. It is not just a single aberration but appears to be systematic institutionalised deceit.

This fallacy is one of several UK Government climate fallacies - see document 106.

Who is speaking up about the fallacy?

Who is repeating the fallacy?

How is the UK Government responding to the criticisms?

It does not respond, which suggests that the fallacy is deliberate. If the Government is committed to high standards of administration, there should be transparency and accountability.

Action needed

People who care about basing policies on facts and fairness should

Notes and references

[1][UK Government (October 2021) Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener
[3]2019 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Final Figures (Feb 2021) Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, edited from Figure 1 on page 4
[4]WWF/University of Leeds (Mar 2020)
[6]Greta Thunberg (2019) Can you hear me? (speech to MPs)
[7]Greta Thunberg accuses the UK of lying about its climate success ahead of COP26 (2021)
[8]Fridays for Future member Face the climate emergency Open letter (Jul 2020)
[9]George Monbiot & Leo Murray (2013) Carbon Omissions: how the UK outsourced its carbon footprint
[10]Corbyn pledges Labour transparency on UK carbon footprint (Jul 2019)
[11]Extinction Rebellion protesters have repeatedly pointed out that the Government's claims of large emission reductions are based on omitting aviation, shipping and emissions embodied in imports, e.g. Rupert Read as part of a delegtion meeting Michael Gove, May 2019 (at 15 mins)


The figures for emssions from aviation by UK citizens are obtained from
Uncertainties include how much fuel is used taken on at refueling stops, and how many UK citizens make a short flight to a European airport as the first leg on a long distance flight.

First published: 2 Apr 2021
Last updated: 22 Sep 2023