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BEIS is not telling the truth on carbon emissions

The UK Government's Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is claiming a 44% drop in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2018 [1] but it is not telling the truth.

New York Times

The first chart is taken from a New York Times article of 2018 [2]. The UK has lost much of its manufacturing industry and now imports many carbon-intensive goods, especially from China.


The second chart is from a report UK's Carbon Footprint 1997 - 2016 [3] from the UK Government's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, again showing how a decline in the UK's territorial emissions has been cancelled out by an increase in emissions embedded in imports.


The third chart, from BEIS claims a 44% reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions [1] but makes no mention of imports.

Claire Perry (UK Government minister) said "We can be proud that we continue to lead the way in reducing emissions while growing our economy" [4]. Is she really proud that the UK has lost so much of its manufacturing industry, and now imports so much? Is she really advocating that other countries should follow this example? Or is this deliberate "misinformation"?

Furthermore, the BEIS figures do not include international aviation or shipping, or emissions from burning biomass (mainly wood) which the BEIS treats as zero carbon. With these included (as they must be), the total has increased.

Reaction to BEIS failing to tell the truth

  • Greta Thunberg criticised the UK Government in her 2019 speech to MPs [5]. "Since 1990 the UK has achieved a 37% reduction of its territorial CO2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. And that does sound very impressive. But these numbers do not include emissions from aviation, shipping and those associated with imports and exports."

  • Jeremy Corbyn has pledged that Labour in power would change the law to reveal imported emissions and 'carbon leakage' [6].

  • Extinction Rebellion climate protesters have made "Tell the Truth" the first of their three demands [7] - and the failure of BEIS to tell the truth is bound to inflame and prolong the protests.


[1] BEIS: 2018 UK Greenhouse gas emissions, provisional figures (March 2019)

[2] Brad Plumer (2018) Youíve Heard of Outsourced Jobs, but Outsourced Pollution? Itís Real, and Tough to Tally Up

[3] DEFRA UK's Carbon Footprint 1997 Ė2016

[4] Greenhouse gas emissions in UK fell 3% in 2018, official figures show (2019)

[5] Greta Thunberg (2019) Can you hear me?

[6] Corbyn pledges Labour transparency on UK carbon footprint (Jul 2019)

[7] Extinction Rebellion

Last updated: 15 Oct 2019