UK and China leading on low carbon transition but global emissions are still rising, finds PwC's Low Carbon Economy Index

Oct 04, 2018

  • The UK leads the G20 for its rapid low carbon transition since 2000

  • China tops the Index with the most rapid reduction in carbon intensity of the G20 in 2017

  • Not one country achieving the decarbonisation rate needed to limit warming to two degrees


Emissions are on the rise again as the transition to a low carbon energy mix lags behind global economic growth. PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) 2018, now in its 10th year, finds that the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees  looks even further out of reach as national decarbonisation rates fail to match up to the Paris Agreement.  


PwC’s 2018 LCEI also reveals that:


  • China leads the Index, decarbonising its economy by 5.2% in 2017. China has nearly halved the carbon intensity of its economy in ten years.

  • The UK has had the fastest low carbon transition since 2000 of all G20 countries.  Its absolute carbon intensity is comparable with France, Brazil and Italy.

  • The top performers in the Index this year are China, Mexico, Argentina and the UK




The UK remains at the top of the G20 leaderboard for its long term low carbon transition since 2000, decarbonising at 3.7% per year.  It has reduced emissions by 29% since 2000 while growing the economy by 34%. In the electricity sector, emissions per MWh generated have been cut by 29% in the last decade, due to a combination of policies. Following publication of the Government’s ‘Ultra Low Emission Vehicles’ strategy, the number of these cars on the road has grown by 40% per year on average.  Although still at a low base compared to other countries, there are more than 140,000 low emissions vehicles on the road at the end of 2017 compared to 10,000 in 2010. Early figures for 2018 suggest the trend will continue for both electric vehicles and the shift towards renewables.


The UK’s decarbonisation rate last year was 4.7%, a little lower than the year before. In 2017, emissions fell by 2.9% as coal and gas demand fell while oil consumption remained constant. These fossil fuels were replaced with renewable generation and there was also a marginal reduction in energy use.


Another cause of the lower rate was relatively low GDP growth in 2017, which some suggest is the result of squeezed household spending power from inflation and uncertainty around the prospect of leaving the EU in March 2019.


  • The UK’s GDP growth has been driven primarily by consistent and strong growth in the service sector, while construction output fell and manufacturing growth remained relatively low compared with other parts of the economy.

  • There has been a 33% increase in wind energy across the UK over the past year, and a 22% increase in solar generation

  • However  fossil fuels remain the dominant source of energy and still account for 80% of the UK’s primary energy in 2017, a drop of 1% compared to 2016.  

Jonathan Grant, Director of Climate Change and co-author of the LCEI at PwC UK, said:


“The UK is a global leader in driving the low carbon transition. Renewables, energy efficiency and dominant growth of the services sectors all contributed to the UK’s top performance compared with other G20 countries.


“Following success in decarbonising the electricity sector, achieving the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy, which was launched last year, will now depend on faster progress in other sectors, such as transport and industry.”




China, the world’s largest emitter, is outperforming its G20 peers and has demonstrated the highest decarbonisation in 2017 of 5.2%. China has reduced the carbon intensity of its economy by 41% in the past ten years putting it on track to achieve its national target (NDC). However, despite these impressive statistics there was still a 1.4% increase in emissions in China in 2017, and its carbon intensity remains above the E7 average.


China has also retained its top position as an engine for renewable growth, and has made significant strides toward meeting its pledge under the Paris Agreement to generate 20% of its energy in 2030 from low-carbon sources.


Still not enough


While many countries have cut carbon intensity of their economies over the past four years, the average 2.6% per year drop remains less than half of what is required to limit warming to two degrees. Not one country is on track this year with the decarbonisation rate needed to achieve the Paris Agreement goal. Without a dramatic step up in decarbonisation efforts, the report warns that at this rate the two degrees carbon budget will run out in less than 20 years.


Jonathan Grant, Director of Climate Change at PwC UK, commented:


“There seems to be almost zero chance of limiting warming to well below two degrees - the main goal of the Paris Agreement. Given the gap between talk and action on climate, the risks to business are obvious: fragmented, knee-jerk regulation and physical impacts of climate change.


“There are many solutions to this problem - governments just need to get on with implementing them. Recent reforms to the EU Emissions Trading System that raised the price of carbon this year are a good example of what’s needed.”



Notes to editors:

About the Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI): The LCEI model combines energy-related CO2 emissions with historic and projected GDP data, and the IPCC’s carbon budgets. The model covers energy and macroeconomic data from individual G20 economies, as well as world totals. Details of our model structure are available in the Appendix of the LCEI report.


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