The government is expected to confirm tomorrow that emissions of greenhouse gases fell by a 2% in 2008 compared to the previous year. Ministers pretend the figures are evidence that the UK is on the right track to meeting its targets; to cut emissions by over a third by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
But energy experts said that the small decline was a result of the recession and record energy prices, rather than government policy. In 2008 petrol prices and utility bills soared, prompting motorists and households to be more frugal.
Chris Goodall, energy and environment author, said: "What drove 2008 emissions lower were high energy prices and by the end of the year a decline in economic activity, rather than any structural changes. Although government policies are beginning to work they won't be enough to meet 2020 targets on their own. It seems that, unfortunately, high energy prices are a more important part of reducing energy demand and emissions."
In 2007, according to government estimates, the UK emitted 636.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The government issued provisional figures last year indicating that 2008 emissions stood at 623.8m tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent, 2% down on 2007.
The emissions cuts, only the fourth in the last 50 years, provide countries with a unique chance to switch to less carbon-intensive energy sources, said the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol.
"Average growth in emissions has been 3% a year but we estimate this year that emissions will fall 3%. Because of the financial crisis, many industries have the chance to move away from unsustainable power." he said.
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