By Susanna Twidale
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 3.3 percent in 2015, largely due to a decline in coal-fired power generation and marking the third straight yearly drop, preliminary government data showed on Thursday.
Output of the heat-trapping gases in Europe's second-largest emitter behind Germany fell to 497.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), from 514.4 million tonnes in 2014, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said.
Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas blamed for climate change, dropped 4 percent to 405 million tonnes.
The fall stemmed largely from a drop in energy-sector emissions. Those fell 13 percent to 136 million tonnes of CO2e as low-carbon electricity production from renewable and nuclear power plants rose and carbon-intensive coal generation fell.
Data released by the government last month showed coal-fired generation fell 24 percent last year while nuclear generation rose by 10 percent and wind generation by 24 percent.
Thursday’s data shows Britain’s GHG emissions have fallen 38 percent since 1990, and dropped for a third consecutive year.
Britain has a legally binding target to cut its GHG emissions by 2050 to 80 percent below 1990 levels and has set out five yearly carbon budgets towards meeting this goal.
The country is on track to achieve the cuts needed to meet the second and third carbon budgets to 2022 but the government has said it risks missing the fourth, 2023-27 budget, which needs a reduction of 50 percent by 2025.
Last November the government announced plans to close polluting coal-fired power plants and replace them with gas plants by 2025, but industry experts have warned the new plants are not being built quickly enough.
They also warned that a decision last year to cancel a 1 billion pound ($1.44 billion) project to help fund technology to capture CO2 emissions and store them underground would make meeting the climate target more difficult.
The bulk of Britain's emissions, some 27 percent, came from energy supply, followed by transport at 23 percent, business at 14 percent and residential at 13 percent. The rest came from sectors including agriculture and waste management.
($1 = 0.6957 pounds)
(Editing by Jason Neely and Dale Hudson)