UK public wrong on greenhouse gas emissions sources

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The British public is getting it wrong when it comes to identifying major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, an Institution of Mechanical Engineers survey has found.

sources of greenhouse gas emissions
Image by Reto Gerber from Pixabay

The survey found the British public underestimating the contribution of domestic heating to greenhouse gas emissions and overestimating aviation’s overall impact.


Titled Public Perceptions: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, the survey found 15 per cent of people mentioning domestic heating as one of the top three sources of emissions. Aviation (53 per cent), livestock farming (34 per cent) and the heating of commercial buildings (16 per cent) were ranked higher despite being sectors that produce less emissions than homes.

According to IMechE, building heating is one of the main sources of emissions in Britain, with three quarters coming from homes using gas and oil-fired boilers. The Climate Change Committee state that nearly 13 per cent of UK greenhouse gases are a result of home heating using fossil fuels, a similar level to emissions from cars.

In a statement, Matt Rooney, head of policy at the Institution, said: “The decarbonisation of home heating is one of biggest challenges we face as a country in trying to meet our 2050 Net Zero emissions target.

“Replacing the millions of gas boilers installed across the country with low carbon alternatives will be expensive and disruptive, and possibly very unpopular. The fact that the British public do not seem to think that they are a large source of our national greenhouse gas emissions could increase resistance to change.”

The poll found the public overestimated the importance of the contribution from aviation to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, with 70 per cent of people listing it in the top three sources in the transport sector compared with 64 per cent mentioning road transport. Emissions from road transport are, however, around three times higher than those from the aviation sector at its pre-pandemic peak.

“The overestimate of the contribution of aviation is likely to be because people are aware of the sharp increase in flying in recent years and of the high amounts of pollution emitted by individual flights compared to other modes of transport,” said Rooney.

The survey did find support for government plans to reduce road transport emissions through its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, with 43 per cent of people backing the proposal and 27 per cent opposed. Younger people aged 18 to 24 years and those from the top income bracket were most likely to be in favour of the policy.