New figures released by the UK’s Defra government department show that emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen by an average of 1% per year since 1997, even though carbon dioxide emissions have actually risen over the same period.

The existing Climate Change Programme, begun in 2000, has succeeded in reducing CO2 levels by about 4% compared with the business as usual case, according to government figures. Nonetheless, as expected, carbon dioxide emissions actually increased between 2002 and 2003 by 2.2%, as against provisional figures released last year which suggested a 1.5% increase.

This increase is largely due to the greater use of coal for electricity generation, and a decrease in net imports of electricity from the continent.

Carbon dioxide emissions are now estimated to have been 5.6% lower in 2003 than in 1990, with reductions from the energy sector and across industry, and increases from residential fossil fuel use and transport.

Despite the rise in emissions during 2003, the UK is still on course to meet its Kyoto target of a 12.5% reduction on 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2008 – 2012. In 2003 greenhouse gas emissions were about 13.4% below the 1990 baseline and it is estimated that CO2 emissions will be about 13% below 1990 levels in 2010, putting the UK well ahead of its targets under Kyoto.

Emissions of all greenhouse gases per unit of GDP have fallen by 3.58% per year since 1997 with cuts in methane, nitrous oxides and fluorinated compunds particularly significant.

In a reference to the UK’s domestic target for a 20% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2010, Environment Minister Elliot Morley said, “It is disappointing that there has been an increase in carbon dioxide emissions and this will inform the government’s current discussions on what more needs to be done between 2005 and 2010.”

Provisional estimates for 2004 emissions are due to be released at the end of March.