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mind the gap

Which country is doing the most to reduce its carbon emissions?

Common guesses include China, which is spending trillions to clean up transit, power plants, and factories. Or Germany, which has gone all-in on renewable energy. But the best answer might be the United Kingdom.

China’s emissions are still rising, and Germany’s are down 23 percent since 1990. Meanwhile, Britain has driven down its emissions by 43 percent since 1990, according to provisional data released Thursday. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Scott Burger helpfully turned the data into a graph:

So, has the U.K. simply moved its emissions to China by closing down the Sheffield steel plants and buying imported steel? Not quite — its overall emissions based on import consumption are down as well. (Though it’s true that the country’s traditional manufacturing sector has taken a hit, as you would know if you’ve seen The Full Monty.)

Of course, having low carbon emissions in the first place is better than polluting a bunch and making big improvements after the fact. All rich countries have pumped more than their share of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But the Brits have provided a model for maintaining all the modern creature comforts while kicking their carbon habit.

How did they do it? Basically, clean energy replaced a lot of coal, industry put a lid on super pollutants, and dumps captured more methane.