Boris Johnson gets his numbers muddled on economic growth

31 January 2020
What was claimed

UK carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 42% since 1990.

Our verdict

Broadly correct. UK carbon dioxide emissions fell 39% between 1990 and 2018, though this data isn’t perfect and may overstate the fall.

What was claimed

The economy has grown by 73% under this Conservative government.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The economy grew 73% between 1990 and 2017, under both Labour and Conservative-led governments. The economy has grown by around 20% since the Conservatives took office in 2010.

“We should not forget that this country has reduced CO2 emissions already by 42% on 1990 levels, while the economy, under this Conservative Government, has grown by 73%.”

Boris Johnson, 29 January 2020

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Boris Johnson said that carbon dioxide emissions are down 42% since 1990 and that the economy has grown 73% under this government.

The first claim is broadly correct but the second is wrong. The economy has grown by roughly this level since 1990, under both Conservative and Labour governments, not just this current government.

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Carbon emissions

Between 1990 and 2018 the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by 39% and the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions fell by 44%.

Mr Johnson’s 42% figure could refer to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (not just CO2) between 1990 and 2017.

It’s worth noting that these figures can only tell us so much. For example, they exclude greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation and shipping.  

They also don’t factor in the emissions produced from any international goods and services that are then consumed in the UK.

The Office for National Statistics says: “Service-focused countries tend to create indirect emission by outsourcing the manufacturing of consumer items to countries with lower labour costs such as China.”

It adds: “Therefore, any apparent decline in territorial CO2 emissions is overestimated. However, in recent years the UK has made genuine efforts in cutting down both its territorial and consumption-based emissions despite continued growths in its GDP per head.”

The economy

There are numerous ways to measure the economy, but one of the most common is to look at Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is the total value of everything that happens within a country’s economy.

Under Conservative-led governments since 2010, the UK’s GDP has grown by around 20% (depending on exactly when you start counting),  not 73% as Mr Johnson said.  We’ve asked his office for more information. 

73% is how much the economy grew between 1990 and 2017, which comprised 13 years of Labour government, more than 10 years of Conservative government and five years of the Coalition.

We deserve better than bad information.

We got in touch to request a correction regarding a claim made by Boris Johnson in Parliament.

They did not respond.

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