UK lockdown slump cut consumer carbon emissions by a quarter

A slump in UK consumer spending during the coronavirus lockdown has erased almost the same carbon emissions as produced by the city of Nottingham in a year, according to a new report.

Carbon emissions from the UK’s main consumer industries tumbled by more than a quarter during the national coronavirus lockdown as people travelled less and cut down on clothes shopping.

A study by Carbon Trust, using spending data from over 3 million Lloyds Banking customers, found that the sudden drop in spending between the end of March and early July caused carbon emissions to fall by 4.3m tonnes, or 27%, compared with the same months last year.

The study looked at the lockdown spending data from Lloyds customers to measure the change in spending habits, and used data from the Office for National Statistics to estimate the carbon impact.

It found that carbon emissions over the year to date are likely to be 14% lower than they were at this time last year after spending remained weaker than usual even as lockdown restrictions eased through July and the first half of August.

The biggest slump in emissions was triggered by the severe restrictions on travel which cut spending on plane tickets, road fuels and commuting to wipe a total of 4.76m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the UK economy.

Meanwhile, lower spending on clothing may have cut emissions from clothing stores by 620,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The collapse in transport emissions more than offset the rise in carbon caused by higher spending on deliveries of supermarket groceries and electronic goods as lockdown measures were put in place across the country, the report found.

Experts have warned that the temporary dip in carbon emissions due to Covid-19 is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on averting a global climate crisis.

But Myles McCarthy, a director at the Carbon Trust, said the pandemic lockdown may help to increase the public’s awareness of how their habits have an impact on the environment, which could lead to longer term changes in behaviour.

“The changes in spending were driven by a global pandemic not by choice, but our analysis of Lloyds Banking Group customer spending does demonstrate the link between the actions we take in our everyday lives and the impact these have on the level of carbon emissions, a major cause of climate change,” he said.

A separate survey from YouGov, commissioned by Lloyds Bank, found that a third of UK adults intend to keep their carbon footprints in check after the lockdown, by changing the way they travel and shop.

“We have an opportunity to build on this increased awareness and create the low carbon businesses and infrastructure to help people reduce their impact on the environment,” McCarthy added.

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