In the quarter century since the signing of the United Nations Climate Convention at the Rio Earth Summit, Britons have become richer, on average, than citizens of any other G7 nation. At the same time, Britons have reduced their average carbon footprint more than citizens of any other G7 nation.
The report was released to coincide with the launch of Mission 2020, a new initiative convened by former Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Convention Christiana Figueres, which aims to make sure that global greenhouse gas emissions are declining by 2020.
Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said the findings "demolish the argument that curbing climate change ruins economies".
“It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm,“ he said.
“As this report shows, if you have consistent policymaking and cross-party consensus, it’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time. Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7 – but we’ve clearly been the best of the bunch.
Lord (Michael) Howard of Lympne, the former Conservative Party leader who as UK Environment Secretary negotiated the UN Convention in 1992, said the findings should encourage leaders to pursue emission cuts in line with science. (See Michael Howard comment article in The Guardian.)
“Before we signed the UN Climate Convention 25 years ago, Sir John Major and I were firmly of the view that reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions would not harm our economy. This analysis shows that we were right and the doom-mongers wrong,” he said.
“The consequences of unconstrained climate change are now becoming ever clearer, and on a global basis, emissions are not falling quickly enough to avert the risks ahead.
The report found several factors behind the UK’s success, including a switch from coal to gas for electricity, energy efficiency schemes cutting demand, and a shift to a more service-based economy.
It also contests the idea that the UK has cut its emissions at home by “exporting” them – that emissions produced in other countries through making goods imported in the UK have risen. On a per-capita basis, “imported” emissions are now almost exactly the same as in 1997, the first year for which the government produces data – even though UK per-capita GDP has more than doubled in that period.