Last year’s long cold winter contributed to a 19% increase in sulphur emissions as power companies burned more coal to keep up with increased demand, the Environment Agency has revealed. The Environment Agency estimates that the knock-on health costs from increased emissions rose from approximately £845 million in 2011 to £957 million in 2012.
The Sustainable Business Report, the Environment Agency’s annual stocktake of environmental performance in England, shows that the increase in sulphur and nitrogen oxides, and particulate emissions, bucks the general trend over the past decade, which had seen emissions fall significantly. However, at least part of this longer term decrease is attibutable to an increase in ‘offshoring’, as manufacturing has moved offshore, resulting in increased emissions elsewhere in the world; part can also be attributed to reduced economic activity as a result of the international recession.
The rise in coal burning was also, in part, down to cheaper coal imports from the United States due to the widespread availability of shale gas supplies in the US. In the UK, coal accounted for 40% of electricity generation – the highest since 1996.
Commenting upon the report, Environment Agency Chief Executive, Dr Paul Leinster said, “Last year’s cold winter and cheaper coal imports led to more coal being used for electricity generation, resulting in a rise in emissions from sulphur and nitrogen oxides, and particulates. However, these emissions will reduce significantly in the future as the operation of coal-fired power stations is restricted by European Directives.”
Despite the increase in emissions, the environmental performance of British industry continues to improve, despite tough economic conditions. The number of pollution incidents in England classified as serious or significant fell by 8% to 504, the lowest level ever recorded, whilst overall, serious pollution incidents have reduced by 55% since 2000.