UK sets new climate target in law

The UK will set in law a new climate target aiming to cut emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, government confirmed this week.

Image: Adobestock

In line with the recommendation from the Climate Change Committee, the government’s sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gas emissions over a five-year period from 2033 to 2037. It aims to take the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts toward 1.5°C.

This carbon budget will also incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions for the first time, government announced. 

Previously, the commitment was to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 68 per cent compared to 1990 levels through the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution — the highest reduction target made by a major economy to date. The new target builds on this and will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021.

Business and Energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement that the announcement means a low carbon future is 'now in sight'.

“This latest target shows the world that the UK is serious about protecting the health of our planet, while also seizing the new economic opportunities it will bring and capitalising on green technologies — yet another step as we build back greener from the pandemic and we lead the world towards a cleaner, more prosperous future for this generation and those to come,” Kwarteng added.

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Cuts in greenhouse gases across the economy and industry have allowed the UK to bring down emissions by 44 per cent overall between 1990 and 2019, and two-thirds in the power sector. Renewable energy generation has more than quadrupled since 2010, while low carbon electricity now makes up over 50 per cent of our total generation.

Tony Meski, senior market development analyst at Wärtsilä Energy described the new target as a ‘bold step to sparking the green revolution’, commenting: “The government has set the mandate to support the clean energy and balancing solutions needed and accelerate the pathway to 100 per cent renewable energy.”

The UK outperformed its first and second Carbon Budgets and is on track to outperform the third, which ends in 2022. Prior to enshrining its net zero commitment in law, the UK had a target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The sixth Carbon Budget aims to achieve almost the same level 15 years earlier.

Government is now urging countries and companies around the world to join the UK in delivering ambitious targets ahead of the UN climate summit COP26 later this year.

Steps taken so far to reach the UK’s 2050 climate target are set out in the publication of the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which includes over £1bn government funding to cut emissions from industry, schools and hospitals; alongside the prime minister’s ten point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and the government’s Energy White Paper.

The UK has also become the first G7 country to agree a North Sea Transition Deal to support the oil and gas industry’s transition to clean energy, committing to cutting emissions in the sector by 50 per cent by 2030.

Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate group said: “The inclusion of the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions is a particularly welcome addition and will help to accelerate the development of sector-specific decarbonisation plans.

“Focus now must turn to strengthening the UK’s policy framework to meet this new target, by putting in place a detailed and cross-departmental net zero strategy that will drive private investment in low carbon goods and services, supply chains, jobs and skills.”