LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's greenhouse gas emissions fell 7 percent in 2011, putting one of the European Union's biggest emitters further ahead of its internationally binding target under the Kyoto Protocol, provisional government data showed on Thursday.
While the country is ahead of the Kyoto timetable, the figures do not mean Britain has much scope to ease up its drive towards a low carbon economy as it also has ambitious, legally-binding domestic targets.
In 2011, the UK emitted 549.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, a 7 percent drop from 2010 levels and down 28 percent from emissions in 1990, according to data from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
DECC attributed the year-on-year decline in 2011 mainly to a decrease in residential gas use, combined with a reduction in electricity demand and greater use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and nuclear power generation.
"The government can take credit for some of the emissions reductions - particularly through the 35 percent increase in renewable electricity generation over 2010 - but not all," said David Symons, director at global environmental consultancy WSP Environment and Energy.
Symons said other factors were beyond the government's control, such as the warmer weather and global energy prices which could have impacted energy consumption over the past year.
"Another cold winter or a drop in fuel prices could well see emissions rise again," he said, adding the government still has its work cut out to encourage the growth of renewables and to help homeowners and businesses become more energy efficient.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only binding pact to help curb global warming, Britain has to cut emissions by 12.5 percent below 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012.
The country's national emission budgets are set over five-year periods towards a 2050 goal of cutting emissions at least 80 percent below 1990 levels.
The Committee on Climate Change last year said the UK was on track to keep within its 2008-2012 emission budget of a 22 percent reduction on 1990 levels, largely due to the effects of the economic downturn curbing industrial output.
Carbon dioxide (CO2), a main greenhouse gas, accounted for more than 80 percent of UK's total emissions last year. Year-on-year, UK CO2 emissions fell 8 percent to 456.3 million tonnes, according to DECC's provisional data.
In 2011, the energy supply sector accounted for an estimated 40 percent of CO2 emissions, followed by transport at 26 percent and 15 percent from each of the business and residential sectors.
Since 1990, the UK's CO2 emissions have fallen 23 percent, thanks to more efficient electricity generation and switching from coal to less carbon intensive fuels such as gas, DECC said.
Emissions from other sectors, such as business, residential, and agriculture have also declined since 1990, apart from transport, which has remained relatively flat.
(Reporting by Jeff Coelho; Editing by Anthony Barker)