Carbon dioxide emissions


The 2021 carbon dioxide results give a total figure of 7.0 million tonnes for the 12-authority Lancashire area. This equates to 5.7 tonnes per person (UK=4.8).

At the local authority area level, emissions range from 336 kilotonnes (kt) in Rossendale to around 900 kt in Ribble Valley and West Lancashire.

Technical note about Table 1, Figure 1 and Figure 2

In this article the table and figures are contained in a single 3-page Microsoft Power BI report. Table 1 should display when the article is opened. In Table 1 it is possible to sort on any of the fields or columns by clicking on the column heading. In Figure 1, the values of the indicators are shown as bars and can be read off by pointing at the bars. In Figure 2 we include a district filter box which allows the time series to be displayed for just one or any number of the districts


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal greenhouse gas believed to be contributing to global warming. In 2021, it was estimated to account for 81% of the UK greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of man-made CO2 emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels in power generation and in the transport, domestic and industrial sectors. The level of emissions depends on the fuel mix and the fuel consumption data.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) {formerly DECC} publishes data on carbon dioxide emissions broken down by local authority, and the latest results are for 2021. The most recent figures for the 14 local authorities in Lancashire have been used in this article, along with a back-series of data from 2005 to 2020 for comparison purposes. Although entitled 'emissions' the totals are actually net values of CO2 emissions and CO2 sunk back into the land through forestry and agriculture, hence the negative values most noticeable in the Land Use Change sector figure for the United Kingdom. 

Total CO2 emissions in the 12-authority Lancashire sub-region in 2021 were estimated at just under 7 million tonnes (Table 1). This represented 19.2% of the North West total of 36.5 million tonnes and 2.2% of the UK total. Overall, 32.7% of Lancashire emissions were attributable to the transport sector sources, 30.8% to the industry and commercial sectors combined, 26.5% to the domestic sector, 3.9% to agriculture, land use, land use change and forestry and just 3.5% to the Public Sector.

Expressed in terms of per capita (per resident), in order to make allowance for the different size of areas, total CO2 emissions in the 12 authority Lancashire area, at 5.7 tonnes per annum, were above the UK average (4.8 tonnes).

In considering such per capita ratios, it should be noted that while emissions per resident may be a useful measure for domestic emissions, CO2 levels from industry and road transport are affected by many factors other than the size of the resident population so these ratios should be interpreted with caution.

Power stations supplying domestic electricity customers via the national grid have their emissions reallocated by domestic usage, rather than from where the emissions are actually released.

The 'motorways' element of transport emissions appears to be based to some degree on road length of motorways (there are no emissions allocated to this element in authorities that have no motorways, e.g., Ribble Valley. Likewise for diesel railways, there are no emissions for this element in Rossendale which has no stations or railway lines on the national rail network.

At the district authority level, CO2 emissions can exhibit wide variations due to differences in population numbers, geography; the extent of the local road network and the structure of local industrial and commercial sector. Across the broader Lancashire area, total CO2 emissions range from a low of 335 kt in Rossendale, to around 900 kt in Ribble Valley and West Lancashire. Viewed in terms of CO2 rates per head, the levels range from a low of just 3.4 tonnes in Blackpool to 7.7 in West Lancashire, and an exceptional 14.5 tonnes in Ribble Valley.

Results by emission source

Figure 1 (the 2nd page in the Microsoft Power BI panel) presents the information from Table 1 in a format that provides additional emphasis to the variations in the mix of CO2 emissions per authority between industry and commerce, domestic, road transport and land use.

It is important to note that the presence of certain high-energy using industries like refineries, metals production, glass and other non-metallic mineral sectors, which are concentrated in a few areas, can have a very large local impact. Within Lancashire the share of emissions attributable to industry and commerce is greatest in those districts where energy-intensive industrial activities have a disproportionate representation (see Figure 1). Blackburn with Darwen and especially Ribble Valley stand out as areas with high CO2 emission levels from industry and commerce. Two large cement works have a fundamental impact on the outturn for Ribble Valley. Based on the 'Pollution Inventory' data, the contribution of these two works alone is around 580 kilotonnes in 2021. Cement production involves both CO2 emissions from the fuel used to heat limestone and from the limestone itself as it is broken down into quicklime by the process. The cement industry as a whole is responsible for 5% of global CO2 emissions. Hanson Cement, operator of the main site in Clitheroe, are endeavouring to reduce their CO2 emissions significantly over the next 30 years.

Across Lancashire, total domestic carbon dioxide emissions vary from a highs of 211 kt in Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool, 206 kt in Lancaster to just 109 kt in Ribble Valley and 114 kt in Rossendale. There is a very strong correlation between domestic emissions and population. This may be largely due to the reallocation of power station emissions mentioned before. Apart from this average domestic emissions can be influenced by the number of households in the area; fuel types used; the type and condition of the housing stock (including its insulation and energy efficiency); the average temperature (urban areas can be warmer and therefore easier to heat than rural areas); average household size; type of household; income and preferences of its occupiers, though figures of between 3.2 and 3.6 tonnes of domestic CO2 emissions per household are found for nine of the local authorities and also the Lancashire-12 and 14 areas.

Microsoft Power BI report: Table 1, Figure 1 and Figure 2 (see technical note above)

Source: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) {formerly DECC} Per capita rates are based on the ONS 2021 mid-year estimates of population

Transport emissions include freight and passenger transport, both private and for business purposes. The estimates of road transport CO2 are made on the basis of the distribution of traffic, therefore some of the emissions within an authority represent through traffic, or part of trips into or out of the area whether by residents or non-residents. In some authorities this can be particularly significant and may provide part of the explanation for high figures in Chorley, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Preston, South Ribble and Wyre which are five authorities straddling the county's motorway network in which over 30% of their transport emissions of CO2 are derived from motorway traffic. Motorway traffic accounts for 34.1% of all CO2 emissions in Chorley, 20.6% in Preston and 20.5% in Lancaster. In seven of the fourteen authorities shown in Figure 1 the transport sector is dominant for CO2 emissions.

For neighbouring East Lancashire boroughs Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, domestic emissions are the largest source, albeit only marginally. Blackpool is the only authority where domestic emissions are the clear leader at 44.9%. The industry sector dominates in Ribble Valley and Blackburn with Darwen.

Land use, land use change and forestry constitute a less important sector considered in the CO2 estimates. This used to be very much a minor or residual category, but in 2021 features as the second largest source in West Lancashire, just behind Industry, and was the largest in 2020. Elsewhere the amounts remain relatively small. Because it can act as a sink, removing carbon from the atmosphere, as well as a source of carbon emissions, the measure takes account of both CO2 emissions and removals. Within the 14-authority Lancashire area, the sector is responsible for just 269 kt (3.9%) of emissions. In West Lancashire the more significant figure of 203.9 kt (22.6%) in this category and is a reflection of the large amount of top-grade agricultural land, the intensive nature of the farming and the use of heating and CO2supplementation (or enrichment) in the many glasshouses there. In these latest figures Wyre Borough also has a greater share of emissions allocated to this category at 11%. The value for Ribble Valley is negative, which brings the county total down slightly.

Agriculture is now listed as a separate sector. The total for all 14 authorities is only 189.9 kt, but stands at 51.9 kt in West Lancashire. Emissions from Waste Management are also listed, but the Lancashire-14 total is only 1.7 kt.

Lancashire trends in carbon dioxide emissions per capita (2005 to 2021)

Figure 2 (the 3rd page in the Microsoft Power BI panel) presents the changes in COemissions levels per capita for each of the 14 Lancashire authorities between 2005 and 2021. An encouraging pattern of declining emission levels was broadly apparent across all of the 14 areas during the sixteen-year period. Of particular note is the dramatic reduction that took place in Ribble Valley between 2005 and 2012, but in 2013 and 2014 there were increases. All Lancashire authorities recorded per capita rises over the most recent twelve-month period, as transport emissions in particular were sharply affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, but in all cases the rates are still lower in 2021 than they were in 2019.

BEIS additionally examines those emissions which are within the scope of the local authority, excluding some categories such as transport emissions from motorways.

At the national level, there was a 10.1% decrease in emission totals between 2019 and 2020 due partly to a the Covid-19 pandemic (Source: Also, for a four-month period from April to August, no coal was burnt for electricity generation. Coal-fired power generation is being phased out, with Terawatt hour (TWh) estimates for national generation falling to just 22.5 TWh in 2017, 16.8 TWh in 2018, 6.9 TWh in 2019, 5.3 TWh in 2020, 5.9 TWh in 2021 and 5.2 TWh in 2022 (Source: Ember). Between 2017 and 2018 low CO2 fuels overtook fossil fuels as the main source of electricity generation. In November 2016 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a consultation to close the remaining coal-fired power stations by 2025. This has now been brought forward to 2024. In 2020 the UK stood in sixth place in terms of % of electricity generated by solar and wind, but if there is a lengthy period of still weather demand forces prices to rise sharply, and alternative sources (such as fossil fuels or biomass) have to be used. There are more current 2022 statistics available for greenhouse gas emissions at the national level.

Moving towards a low-carbon economy

Although the Industry sector is not the main source for carbon dioxide emissions in most of the Lancashire districts, there are still many benefits in bringing down the level of emissions from this source. The benefits are not just in terms of climate change, and measures to reduce emissions are not necessarily disadvantageous to the businesses affected, in terms of extra costs and competitiveness, but there may be new business opportunities generated within the low-carbon economy, such as those assisted by the ECO-I programme. The UK is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has provided this interactive map to show progress at a local level towards carbon dioxide emission reduction:


What is carbon dioxide?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colourless, odourless gas, denser than air and which is faintly acidic and non-flammable, that occurs naturally in the Earth's atmosphere. It is released in large quantities from natural processes, notably respiration by living organisms. Releases from respiration are balanced by a similar quantity taken up by photosynthesis by ocean-dwelling plankton and land-dwelling biomass, including forests and grasslands (so-called natural "carbon sinks") as part of the carbon cycle. Other natural sources of carbon dioxide include volcanic eruptions, forest fires, decay of dead plant and animal matter and evaporation from seawater.

Man-made releases of carbon dioxide include burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and other fuels containing carbon (e.g. wood) mainly for power generation and transport. Unlike natural sources, CO2 emissions from human activities are not balanced by a corresponding carbon sink and thus accumulate in the atmosphere or are absorbed by seawater.

Carbon dioxide has many commercial uses, being valued for its reactivity, inertness and coldness. Common uses are for fire extinguishing systems; carbonisation of soft drinks; freezing and chilling of food products and their transport; in decaffeinating coffee; enhancement of oil recovery from oil wells; a raw material in the production of various chemicals and treatment of alkaline water. A minor use of the solid (frozen) form of CO2 is to produce smoke effects in television, film and theatre. In Lancashire (particularly West Lancashire district) CO2 is used in the glasshouse horticultural business to boost crop growth.

UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory

Estimates of national man-made CO2 emissions have been available for several years from the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) and help to assess the impact of human activities on the environment and personal health. The NAEI provides much of the information that underlies the BEIS estimates outlined above and the website holds a wealth of additional, and highly detailed emissions data and maps. The website includes an interactive map that has carbon dioxide emissions by local authority area.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

The Defra website hosts the UK – AIR (Information Resource) web pages which provide a wealth of information on air quality and air pollution in the UK. 

Page updated July 2023