UK Government deceit: overclaiming the reduction in UK CO2 emissions

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

How does the UK Government get its figures?

The figures published by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy [1] are obtained by
  • ignoring imports and exports
  • omitting aviation and shipping
  • omitting any discussion of the most appropriate measure.

What are the actual figures?

The chart shows the changes in UK greenhouse gas emissions since 1990:
  • the blue (bottom) line is the figures that the government quotes: just the territorial emissions, i.e. those released on the ground within the UK
  • the purple (middle) line shows the total including imports and exports, which has been calculated by Leeds University academics in a report commissioned by WWF [2] (redrawn from their Figure 2)
  • the top line additionally includes an estimate of emissions due to flying by UK citizens (see Appendix).
The actual fall (excluding shipping) can be estimated as 11% (from 990Mt in 1990 to 880Mt in 2016).

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 the climate crisis to merely transfer manufactuing from one country to another - the world total is unaffected (or might actually be increased due to the transport emissions).

Who is speaking up about the deceit?

  • Leeds University academics in the report commissioned by the WWF [2]
  • Prof Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre, Manchester [3]
  • Greta Thunberg (e.g. in her speech to MPs [4])
  • Fridays for Future Open letter [5]
  • George Monbiot & Leo Murray in an excellent animation: Carbon Omissions [6]
  • The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn [7]
  • Extinction Rebellion protesters [8]

Who is repeating the deceit?

  • The UK Government's Climate Change Committee, e.g. its Dec 2020 report [9]
  • Carbon Brief Mar 2021 report [10] (the small print mentions the omission of aviation and imports, but does not give their scale)
  • Much of the UK media and many commentators - presumably often inadvertently

How is the UK Government responding to the criticisms?

It isn't, which is an indication that the deceit is deliberate. If the Government cares about getting things right, why is there no transparency and accountability?


The UK Government is making a big thing of the UK "leading the world" in emission reduction e.g. Boris Johnson in 2020: "We have cut our carbon emissions by nearly twice the EU average since 1990, 42%" [11] - it is major deceit on an issue of vital importance.
This deceit is one of several UK Government climate deceits, which are part of a large number of UK Government deceits Read more.

Action needed

People who care about Truth and Justice, and about leaving children a habitable planet should
  • avoid repeating the deceit
  • call out the deceit wherever possible
  • avoid repeating other Government deceits - uncaring and deceitful administrations can remain in power through their deceits being inadvertently repeated and becoming the norm.


The figures for emssions from aviation by UK citizens are obtained from
  • figures for aviation fuel used in the UK [12]
  • a conversion factor of 2.5 tonnes CO2 per tonne oil equivalent, to give CO2 generated [13]
  • increase by a factor of 1.9 to allow for radiative forcing [14]
  • increase by a factor of 2.38 to allow for (a) return flights, and (b) the proportion of passenges at UK airports who are UK nationals [14]
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.

Notes and references

[1]BEIS (Mar 2020)
[2]WWF/University of Leeds (Mar 2020)
[4]Greta Thunberg (2019) Can you hear me? (speech to MPs)
[5]Fridays for Future member Face the climate emergency Open letter (Jul 2020)
[6]George Monbiot & Leo Murray (2013) Carbon Omissions: how the UK outsourced its carbon footprint
[7]Corbyn pledges Labour transparency on UK carbon footprint (Jul 2019)
[8]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)

First published: 2 Apr 2021
Last updated: 14 Apr 2021