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The carbon footprint of Government

Defra has published a report detailing the total carbon footprint of UK central Government from 1990 to 2008, including emissions from sources such as buildings, vehicles and other equipment, and, for the first time, the ‘embedded emissions’ of the goods and services bought by Government.

Central Government activities produced nearly 1.2 billion tonnes of GHG emissions (CO2 equivalent) between 1990 and 2008. In 2008, the carbon footprint of central Government was 64.7 million tonnes of GHG and supply chain emissions were responsible for 77 per cent of this. Central Government’s emissions peaked in 2004, at 69.7 million tonnes and have shown a modest decline since.

Central Government accounts for six to seven per cent of the UK carbon footprint, a consistent share over the 19-year timescale of the research.

While the report analyses emissions from central Government, a comparison is made with local Government, and the authors note that the distinction “is not useful in the calculation of a holistic carbon footprint”. While health dominates the carbon footprint of central Government, most education is excluded as schools fall under local Government.

Total, central and local government emissionsCarbon footprint of Central, Local and total General Government, 1990 to 2008 (six GHGs) (Source: CenSA)

The report compared emissions across categories of central Government activity, finding that over 50% of emissions are accounted for by health:

Central Government emissions by categoryProportions of total carbon footprint for sub-sections of Central Government in 2008 (all six GHGs) (Source: CenSA)

(Education, in this analysis, does not include schools, which come under local Government.)

This study did not consider staff commuting or capital investment, though the report notes that both could be included in future, as methodologies are already in place.

Direct emissions have been falling following recent work to reduce Government‘s impact. The Government’s 10 per cent commitment to reducing carbon emissions on its estate is bringing further significant reductions. Further work will take place to consider ways of reducing its supply chain emissions.

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