UK households cut carbon emissions by 33 million tonnes during pandemic – report

Reduced spending on eating out, transport and clothing were some of the biggest drivers behind a 10% fall in the amount of CO2 produced by households.

A motorway during lockdown in 2020
A motorway during lockdown in 2020

UK households cut their carbon emissions by an estimated 33 million tonnes in 2020 as people spent less during the pandemic, according to a report.

Reduced spending on eating out, transport and clothing were some of the biggest drivers behind a 10% fall in the amount of CO2 produced by households’ consumption of goods and services to 295 million tonnes, the report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research for consultants Accenture says.

The South East of England produced more emissions per household than anywhere else in the UK – 13% higher than the national average.

The 33 million tonne fall is equivalent to over a tonne per household and is the same amount of carbon produced by seven million cars on average each year.

Accenture’s annual UK Carbon Consumption Index – the first of its kind to look at how the nation’s consumption habits play a role in changing carbon emissions – shows household energy consumption increased as people spent more time at home, but more renewables in the generation mix meant that electricity-related emissions fell.

Gas and electricity consumption continued to represent the largest source of household emissions, with a share of 43%.

The biggest fall in carbon emissions was caused by a reduced amount of spending on transport as people stayed at home, cutting the average household’s weekly emissions in that category by 23% to 39kg.

The second biggest cause was a fall in spending specifically on restaurants and hotels, with emissions from this category slashed by 53%, to 7kg of carbon per week.

Peter Lacy, Accenture’s chief responsibility officer, said: “While the pandemic forced much of this consumption change, it has shown how big an impact individual households can make in cutting carbon emissions.

“But it’s not all down to consumers. Businesses have a significant role to play too, by accelerating innovation – findings ways to design, make and supply net-zero products and services and educating consumers about ‘greener’ options on the shelf.

“As we approach Cop26, the mounting pressure on businesses to embed sustainability across their operations and lower the carbon intensity of goods and services isn’t going away. It’s only by working together – across business, society and government – that we’ll reach our net-zero targets.”

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