Whilst the debate about whether it helps to put a price on the environment continues to rage, the UK Office of National Statistics has just published the country’s annual environmental accounts, part of a continuing government effort to include the environment in its understanding of the economy. What are the accounts and what do they tell us?
The UK’s environmental accounts are “satellite accounts” to Britain’s national accounts,and are produced to make it easier to measure the impact of the economy on the environment. They are compiled in accordance with the System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), which closely follows the UN System of National Accounts (SNA).
The measures are both positive and negative: the accounts measure pollution (negative) but also how the environment contributes to the economy through raw materials, resource efficiently, etc. They are important to inform sustainable development policy and to understanding how taxation or other economic levers affect the environment.
This year’s accounts deal with natural resources, including oil and gas reserves, forestry, fossil fuel and energy consumption and emissions as well as the total mass of natural resources and products, water use, taxation and environmental protection expenditure.
Points to note from this year are:
Oil reserves down: the upper range of the UK’s total oil reserves halved from 5 billion tonnes in 1990 to 2.5 billion tonnes in 2010
Woodland market value up: the total estimated market value of the UK woodlands increased by 69 per cent, from £5.3 billion in 2008 to £9.0 billion in 2011
Coal use is down, gas is up: the use of coal halved from 66.2 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1990 to 32.5 Mtoe in 2010 and the use of natural gas almost doubled from 51.1 to 92.3 Mtoe during the same period
Total energy consumption is up: in 2010, total energy consumption increased by 3.0 per cent from 2009. Consumer expenditure was the greatest contributor to the increase, followed by manufacturing
Renewable energy is low but rising: use of energy from renewable & waste sources increased by over five times from 1.3 Mtoe in 1990 to 7.1 Mtoe in 2010. Total energy consumption from renewable & waste sources was 3.2 per cent in 2010
GHG emissions are rising in short term, down over the decade: emissions increased by 3.0 per cent between 2009 and 2010; however, they fell by 17.2 per cent between 1990 and 2010
Emissions intensity down: excluding consumer expenditure, emissions intensity was 0.7 thousand tonnes of CO2 equivalent per £ million value added in 2010, 15.7 per cent lower than in 1997
Productivity is up: The UK’s material productivity more than doubled between 1990 and 2010, as the quantity of natural resources used by the UK economy fell in relation to the level of economic activity
Taxes: In 2011, the UK Government received £43.3 billion from environmental taxes, equivalent to 2.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)