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Changes in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (UK) Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 14th, 2020

Introduction

Greenhouse gases are often known for their ability to trap heat in the atmosphere and consequently contribute to climate change. Greenhouse gases normally occur either naturally or artificially, through man’s activities.

The most common natural greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide but most greenhouses gases are artificial and they include methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and the likes (EPA 2011). Greenhouse gas emissions have been a common issue in most environmental debates because it is affirmed that the emission of greenhouse gas is one primary cause of global warming.

Most greenhouse gases are known to originate from developed economies but recent years have seen several countries try to reduce their emissions together. Developing countries are also quickly joining the global trend but much focus has been on developed countries because of their huge contribution to these emissions (Miller 2006, p. 483).

The reason behind this accusation is based on the increase in globalization around the world where companies in developed countries export their manufacturing processes to other regions across the globe. More so, the “outsourcing” trend has significantly contributed to this trend. However, the world still has a long way to go before it truly achieves the goal of a pollution-free planet.

This study focuses on United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas emissions and what the country has done (or can do) to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Records showing the changes in greenhouse gas emissions will be factored in the study, plus the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Overall, the study evaluates the determining factors of the changes in greenhouse gas emissions and possible lessons that the world can learn to make the planet a safer place.

Trend

UK has in the recent years significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions. According to estimates taken between the years, 2008 and 2009, it was documented that, the European nation reduced its greenhouse gas emission by about 9% (Harvey, 2011).

When analyzed in terms of the country’s progress since the year 2009, it is established that, UK has reduced its greenhouse gases by about 18%. However, this is still a long way from the country’s ultimate goal of achieving a greenhouse gas emission cut of 80% by the end of the year 2050 (Harvey 2011). However, the country seems to be on its way.

Nonetheless, there are pessimistic sentiments advanced by several scientists who establish that the UK is probably responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than it takes responsibility for (Rees 2011). This assertion is made on the basis that, the UK does not account for the goods it consumes from developing nations where greenhouse gases are emitted in the production of such goods.

The same trend is said to apply to other nations in the developed world. However, according to the Kyoto protocol, countries can only claim greenhouse gas emission produced within their borders (Rees 2011, p. 5).

This observation therefore means that, technically, UK may be on its way towards significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, but realistically, it may be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than it takes responsibility for.

Nonetheless, regardless of the computation method, it is said that, the drop in greenhouse gas emission, especially through the 2008/2009 period was specifically attributed to the global recession which was felt at the time. From this understanding, some observers note that, UK should not celebrate the fact that, it is on its way towards achieving its ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 80% yet (Rees 2011, p. 5).

Regardless of the above arguments, greenhouse gas emissions can only be predicted through a forecast on man’s activities. In a past study, it was established that, greenhouse gas emissions was going to increase over the next few decades starting from the year 1990 (Rees 2011).

According to the article, the future is bleak, considering many countries are increasing their demand for fossil fuel emanating from an increase in economic growth. This trend can be evidenced from the emergence of new economic powers such as China, India and Brazil which continuously increase their demand for fossil fuel through economic growth.

The trend is no different for developed economies because their economic growth is not stagnant. Generally, it can be said that, the world is quickly increasing its demand for fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions are going to increase as a result, if something is not done to curb the trend. The following factors however determine its intensity.

Politics

Political will is important in reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is true because in as much as the production of greenhouse gas is an environmental issue, its eradication can be easily done by exercising political muscle.

Considering developed nations contribute the biggest percentage of greenhouse gas emission, there has been a poor political will from some of these nations to significantly reduce their greenhouse gases. This is true because by strongly advocating for the reduction of greenhouse gases, they would be “shooting themselves on the foot” because they are the biggest culprits in climate change.

Developing nations have therefore been most vocal in petitioning environmental bodies to act towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions because ironically, the effects of greenhouse gas emissions (climate change) has been strongly felt in the developing world.

Such is the case evidenced in parts of Africa where there have been severe droughts and floods, killing thousands of people, while the continent produces lower greenhouse gases as compared to its developed counterparts.

It is therefore unfortunate that, countries which have the weakest voice in the eradication of greenhouse gases are the most strongly affected. These observations have led many experts to suggest that, developed nations have to stand up and show their political will in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The laxities of developed nations in reducing their greenhouse gases can be attributed to the fact that, some of the world’s biggest multinationals which are responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions originate from the developed world (Miller 2006, p. 483). In fact, the biggest oil companies in the world such as British Petroleum (BP) Exxon Mobil and Shell originate from either the US or the UK.

These companies are known to profit a lot from the consumption of fossil fuel because this is their major business line (Fearn 2010, p. 192).

Moreover, their operations have been known to dent a blow towards the fight for a greener and safer world because they still contribute to environmental degradation from accidents such as oil spills. This is the case evidenced from the recent BP oil disaster in the Gulf region of Mexico (Hiles 2010, p. 619).

Unfortunately, such multinationals have a strong political backing from representative governments and therefore advancing the “climate change” agenda is proving to be a difficult task. This is true because some politicians and governmental officials are known to get financial backing from such multinationals, but at the same time; they are supposed to advance climate change agendas (Fearn 2010, p. 192).

Here, the case of “do not bite the hand that feeds you” surfaces because environmentalists and politicians alike cannot speak out against climate change if they benefit from such multinationals which contribute to the production of greenhouse gases.

For instance, Exxon Mobil has gone on record purporting that, climate change is not caused by the production of greenhouse gases, and in the same manner, the burning of fossil fuel cannot be directly attributed to climate change (Fearn 2010, p. 192).

Similar accusations have also been leveled against the company on grounds that, it is financing protestors at climate events to distract the entire debate regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases and climate change as a whole (Fearn 2010, p. 192).

In the UK, the reduction of greenhouse gases or UK’s carbon footprint has often waivered along the list of issues of priorities for successive governments. For instance, it is reported by Grice (2010) that, conservative members of parliament do not share Cameron’s view of placing the country’s reduction of greenhouse gases a matter of priority.

Grice (2010) further affirms that, “reducing Britain’s carbon footprint was rated the lowest of 19 possible priorities for a Cameron government” (p. 6).

Prior to the UK elections, it was established that, if Cameron tried to scale up the issue of climate change in the list of national priorities for the UK government (either on the domestic or international front), he was going to face stiff opposition not only from rebel members but also members of his own party (Grice 2010). From this analysis, the issue of greenhouse gas emission seems to be largely vulnerable to political intrigues.

In the US, the situation is no different. Politics plays a big role in the determination of greenhouse gas emissions as can be evidenced from the split in the Supreme Court’s admission of the Clean air Act which is expected to impose a nationwide attempt at regulating the emission of carbon dioxide (Kemp 2009).

In fact, the support of the clean air act has been narrowed to the contribution of five judges, where one is expected to be the swinger vote because the rest are divided along political lines (Kemp 2009, p. 4).

Moreover, the imposition of the Clean air act is viewed by some observers as a strategy to make America’s environmental protection agency an economic tool and a business regulator institution. This view is greatly criticized. Kemp (2009) affirms that:

“It would provoke howls of rage from Congress about by-passing the normal legislative process, a criticism to which Democrats are sensitive having accused the Bush administration of much the same thing during its eight years in office. The party is wary of being blamed for raising energy costs for ordinary businesses and consumers without some political cover” (p. 8).

From this understanding, the American government and the environmental protection agency is compromised if it wants to employ any legislative muscle to curb greenhouse gas emissions because it would be subject to legislative battles.

Investments

Investment from the government and private sector is crucial to the reduction in the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the UK. These investments are normally centered on developing alternative sources of energy to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuel.

One major type of energy investment in this context is the nuclear power energy which seeks to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels for energy generation (Bühl 2011). Moreover, investment in nuclear energy is bound to reduce the reliance of coal which also contributes to the production of greenhouse gases.

Collectively, investments in renewable energy is a viable solution to the reduction in green energy but the giant multinationals, in collaboration with the government, ought to be at the forefront in the perfection of green energy use.

For example, the uplifting of solar power to be one major energy source is a sustainable green energy solution which is supposed to reduce UK’s reliance on fossil fuel.

Though many parts of Europe are not endowed with this energy source, investors in other parts of the world have embraced this energy source and continuously continue to harvest solar power. Such is the case in the US where the government has invested in harvesting solar energy in certain parts of California (Bühl 2011).

In the UK, wind energy seems a better alternative source of energy production, though experts note that, it cannot be relied on as a base source of energy because of its unreliability. This situation leaves nuclear energy as a sustainable and a more reliable source of energy for the UK, although experts also have concerns regarding its use.

The recent Japan nuclear disaster has especially increased concerns about the safety of relying on nuclear energy to supplement a country’s energy needs.

Regardless of these arguments, in the fight against climate change and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear energy seems a reliable source of energy when compared with solar and wind power. This means that safety concerns ought to be addressed if sustainable green energy is to be realized.

Nonetheless, investors who need to invest in renewable sources of energy have not yet shown their full commitment in undertaking more research in renewable energy and producing equipments that rely on clean energy for the future.

Commitment from giant multinationals and the government is key in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK because investments in green energy cannot be sustained by individuals (because of its capital intensive nature). In other words, it is only the government and private investors who can sustain investments into green energy solutions.

Government Involvement

In as much as the government needs to partner with the private sector in investing in renewable sources of energy, the biggest player in making countries reduce their greenhouse gas emission is the government. The government’s involvement is key because it has a legislative authority over all companies engaged in the production of greenhouse gases.

It is only through the government’s might that large multinationals can comply with greenhouse gas legislations. It is also through the government’s involvement that effective greenhouse gas policies can be formulated to reduce the emission of greenhouse gas.

Governments can either directly or indirectly regulate the emission of greenhouse gases by ensuring companies comply with regulations governing the emission of greenhouse gases. There are several ways the UK government can manage to accomplish this goal. One primary way of doing so is imposing high taxes on companies which emit greenhouse gas.

In this manner, companies are also bound to invest in finding green energy solutions to avoid high government taxes. For instance, in the US, California has been on the forefront in establishing stringent regulations binding companies to operate in environmentally friendly ways.

There are also increased calls for the government to establish automobile standards to govern all automobile companies in California to produce energy efficient cars because it has been affirmed that the transport sector is one primary platform where green house gas emission is most intense (Kemp, 2009).

There have been similar calls in the UK for the government to establish regulations governing the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere because it is estimated that about 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases are produced from the transport sector (Kemp, 2009). However, the government’s involvement in regulating the industry is a matter of debate as is evidenced by Reuters (2009) which establish that:

“respondents (65 percent) believe the government should regulate greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories, including those who believe this strongly (50 percent) or somewhat (15 percent). Only a minority think the government should not regulate them (29 percent).

While the margin favoring regulation has narrowed since the middle of the year (when it was 75 percent to 22 percent), probably in response to a vigorous opposition campaign, there is still a clear majority in favor of taking some action on climate change”.

However, the biggest problem among citizens in increasing government pressure to establish environmental regulation is when they are faced with several cost estimates that allow for a periodic estimate in the increase of household costs such as electricity bills.

Lessons for the Future

The reduction of greenhouse gas is an effort that should be forged on a comprehensive front because no single entity can win the fight alone. Lessons to be learnt from these analyses are therefore centered on the importance of having a comprehensive approach towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, in the case of UK, it needs to partner with other European nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since there is already an existing framework of the European Union where such an effort can be initiated (House of Commons 2007, p. 3). The initiative will therefore involve hundreds of firms which will have to operate within a given framework of environmental regulations.

The administration of environmental laws to curb greenhouse gas emission can also be implemented under the framework of the European Union because it is easier to do so, and it will be an efficient way of covering significant strides in the fight against climate change.

In making the entire initiative a success, it is important that the allowances to produce carbon should be kept at the operational minimum and their market price should also be high (House of Commons 2007, p. 3). This strategy will ensure businesses in the UK transform their strategies and technical processes for “greener” solutions.

In the same manner, many companies would be willing to invest in “greener” sources of energy and this will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The much needed input of private investors will therefore be realized in this manner. Also, as part of the comprehensive approach to reduce global emissions, it is important that EU sets realistic targets which are to be determined through realistic computational techniques.

Since there are existing concerns about the best methods to reduce greenhouse gas emission in the UK, it is essential that environmental protection agencies work by learning from their past.

Considering the reduction in greenhouse gas emission is largely a behavioral issue, it is important for adequate media coverage to be focused on the reduction of greenhouse gas by complying companies so that other companies may be influenced to do the same.

In other words, it is important for the UK government to spread the lessons of good practice to other companies by starting some form of countrywide movement towards green energy reliance and designing operational activities to be more efficient and reliable so that fossil fuel use can be minimized.

The government’s involvement in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the future can also not be underestimated because it needs to set emission caps for companies operating in the UK. Europe in general has not faired so badly in light of this effort and the UK is a leader too.

However, the sustainability of this initiative is at the centre of the reduction of green house gases because the fight against climate change cannot be won without the contribution of the government.

When striving to meet environmental targets set by the UK and the EU in general, it is not only enough for the UK government to uphold environmental policies because more complimentary policies also need to be formulated to support ongoing initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions (House of Commons 2007, p. 3).

Conclusion

The revolution into green energy is the new frontier of energy reliance because of the adverse effects that the globe is experiencing as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. This study acknowledges that, the move into green and sustainable energy is not as smooth as it should be because there are several determinants to the reduction in greenhouse gases and intensity in the UK, and indeed the rest of the world.

So far, the biggest determinant in greenhouse gas emission is the political will needed from all concerned stakeholders in making the process a success. Across the world, the influence of giant companies and their grip on politicians seem to be the most crucial element barring the realization of a “green” world.

Political influence from compromised politicians and multinational companies which profit from activities that result in the emission of greenhouse gases seem to scale down the prioritization of greenhouse gas debate or global climatic concerns down the list of UK’s government priorities.

In this light, proponents of environmental conservations are compromised in more ways than one because not only do they need to serve the interest of the environment, they also need to cater for the interests of such companies, and the selfish interests of some few individuals.

However, this study acknowledges that this trend is not only unique to UK alone. Another major determinant of greenhouse gas emission is the level of investments made by the government and the private sector in seeking sustainable green energy sources like solar and wind power. If such investments can be upheld in the long-term, not only will UK realize a cut-back of greenhouse gases, but the entire world will realize the same.

Finally, at the apex of the entire debate, governmental involvement is essential in the reduction of greenhouse gases throughout the UK because it has the capability of directly influencing companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Comprehensively, when these elements are effectively addressed, greenhouse gas emissions will reduce by a significant amount.

References

Bühl, G. (2011) UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions Should Boost Green Investment But Don’t Write Off Nuclear Yet. Web.

EPA. (2011) Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Web.

Fearn, R. (2010) Amoral America. New York, Amoral America.

Grice, A. (2010) Web.

Harvey, F. (2011) . Web.

Hiles, A. (2010) The Definitive Handbook of Business Continuity Management. London, John Wiley and Sons.

House of Commons. (2007) The EU Emissions Trading Scheme: Lessons for the Future. London, The Stationery Office Limited.

Kemp, J. (2009) U.S. Environmental Agency Walks A Tightrope On CO2. Web.

Miller, T. (2006) Living In the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions. London, Cengage Learning.

Reuters. (2009) Cost Of Cap-And-Trade for U.S. Households. Web.

Rees, E. (2011) . Web.

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