Spending data indicates carbon emissions remain 14% lower than in 2019

26 August 2020

  • Carbon emissions fell by almost a third over the lockdown period, shows Carbon Trust analysis of Lloyds Banking Group spending data
  • Despite lockdown easing, carbon emissions remain 14% lower than this time last year
  • Additional research by YouGov shows 1 in 3 UK adults are now more likely to try and reduce their carbon footprint as people look to make their own mini-green recover

New data analysis reveals that the carbon emissions resulting from six key consumer spending categories fell by almost a third during the national lockdown, with year-on-year emissions remaining much lower than in 2019.

Analysis of Lloyds Banking Group’s consumer spending data by the Carbon Trust across six key spending categories shows estimated carbon emissions fell by 4.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) over the height of the national lockdown. This was a drop of 27% compared to the same period in 2019 for the areas reviewed. The connection between how we spend our money and the impact this has on carbon emissions is clear.

The analysis focused on the carbon equivalent of six key spending categories that demonstrate changing consumer behaviour: food and drink, fuel, commuting, airlines, electrical stores and clothing stores.

By the 16th of August, overall carbon emissions across the six categories were still 14% lower than they were by the same time last year, equivalent to 4.79 million tonnes less CO₂e: nearing the yearly carbon emissions of the entire city of Nottingham*. The analysis gives an encouraging sign that there is a still time for the UK to build back better by making changes to rebuild the economy in a way that puts low carbon growth at the centre of the coronavirus recovery, while simultaneously continuing to support businesses to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic.

1 in 3 UK adults are now more likely to try and reduce their carbon footprint Additional recent polling by YouGov, commissioned by Lloyds Banking Group, shows that over a third of UK adults are now more likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprint and still have time to do so before carbon emissions reach 2019 levels. An intention to change behaviour was highlighted by consumers across areas such as less use of single use plastics, limiting travel by car and increasing shopping for local produce.

Fall in travel drives drop in carbon emissions

The unprecedented disruption to travel and commuting was the key factor behind the fall in carbon emissions, with many businesses required to close and people spending significantly less. Emissions from airlines and commuting both dropped by 83%, resulting in a saving of 1.34 million tonnes and 1.32 million tonnes of CO₂e respectively. A reduction of spending on fuel, meanwhile,caused a drop in carbon emissions by 41%, representing 2.1 million tonnes less of CO₂e.

This dramatic fall in travel-related emissions eclipsed a rise in carbon emissions seen in some retail sectors, which saw growth during the lockdown. While clothing stores saw a drop in CO₂e of 45% (equal to 620,000 tonnes), this was not the case across all retail segments. In the food and drink sector, the carbon emissions rose by 19% during the lockdown period – equating to 1.07 million tonnes of CO₂e – as shoppers focussed their spending in supermarkets. Likewise, electronic goods saw an increase of 20%, the equivalent of 75,000 tonnes of CO₂e.

The analysis shows that the impact on carbon emissions due to changes in consumer spending behaviour is stark.

Consumers look to mini-green recovery at home

47% of consumers say they will now shop more locallyThe data comes as new research by YouGov shows that following the national lockdown, UK consumers want to play an active role in staging their own mini-green recovery at home. Over a third of UK adults (34%) are more likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprint following the lockdown being eased, most commonly by changing the way they travel and shop.

When asked about their behaviour before the start of the lockdown, just under 1 in 3 UK adults(31%) said they made an effort to reduce the amount they travel by car. Following the pandemic however, 41% plan to limit travel by car, showing that, even after all travel restrictions are lifted, people want to voluntarily continue, to some degree, some of the lifestyle changes made during lockdown in a bid to keep their carbon emissions down.

Similarly, almost half (47%) say they will shop locally more often, compared to just 40% before the lockdown.

Fiona Cannon, Group Sustainable Business Director at Lloyds Banking Group said:

"Each of us has seen the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, whether it be to our families, communities, businesses or livelihoods. We must play our part in helping Britain recover.

As part of our commitment to financing a green future together, Lloyds Banking Group has partnered with the Carbon Trust to better understand the link between the environmental impact of changing patterns of consumer spending. The analysis highlights that there is still the opportunity to build back better.

We must help our nation invest in tackling climate change, which is why we have provided over £6bn in green finance to businesses since 2016 through our sustainable finance initiatives."

Myles McCarthy, Director at the Carbon Trust commented:

"The changes in spending were driven by a global pandemic not by choice, but our analysis of Lloyds Banking Group customer spending does demonstrate the link between the actions we take in our everyday lives and the impact these have on the level of carbon emissions, a major cause of climate change. We have an opportunity to build on this increased awareness and create the low carbon businesses and infrastructure to help people reduce their impact on the environment."

* The yearly emissions of Nottingham are 5.3 Mt CO2 as according to the Global Gridded Model of Carbon Footprints.
** As according to figures from the Committee on Climate Change.