Net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050

The Prime Minister has announced that the UK will set a Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target into law, eradicating the country’s net contribution to climate change by 2050. The legislation will amend the 2008 Climate Change Act which set a target for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels).

The Government’s plans are a response to the Committee on Climate Change’s recent statement calling for a Net Zero 2050 target.

The 2050 target, in an amendment being put down as a statutory instrument, meaning it does not require a vote of MPs, will be one of the most ambitious such goals set by a major polluting nation.

The commitment, to be made in an amendment to the Climate Change Act laid in parliament on Wednesday, would make the UK the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for net zero emissions, Downing Street said. The legislation will mean that the UK is on track to become the first G7 country to legislate for net zero emissions, with other major economies expected to follow suit. It says that the UK will conduct a further assessment within five years to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action, multiplying the effect of the UK’s lead and ensuring that our industries do not face unfair competition.

Environmental groups welcomed the goal but expressed disappointment that the plan would allow the UK to achieve it in part through international carbon credits, something Greenpeace said would “shift the burden to developing nations”.

The Climate Change Act has been the foundation of moves to decarbonise the UK economy and this shows that the Government is reaffirming its commitment and further strengthening reduction targets.

“But it’s vital that targets are backed by robust, practical and fair policies that can deliver the objectives. Climate change cannot be an optional extra, it must be front and centre when we’re developing policies in transport, as well as other key areas of the economy.

“Transport is one of the most challenging areas for decarbonisation (as the SMMT’s latest summary, published today shows) and has, so far, proved one of the most intractable. There are real signs of progress – in road transport at least – but much more must be done by Government and all other key stakeholders to ramp up progress and help ensure that the UK is, at least, amongst countries leading the world into a new green, clean industrial revolution.

“Delivering this ambitious new target for a new generation of mobility systems presents big challenges to every player in the transport arena; automotive, energy, government, fleets and, of course, consumers…but together we can – and must – develop, communicate and deliver the plan to get us to Net Zero”.
France proposed net zero emissions legislation this year, while some smaller countries have gone for dates before 2050, such as Finland (2035) and Norway (2030), though the latter allows the buying of carbon offsets.

While the 2050 date was recommended by the UK’s official Committee on Climate Change (CCC), May has rejected its advice on international carbon credits, whereby a country can pay for cuts elsewhere in lieu of domestic emissions. John Gummer, the CCC chair, said last month it was “essential” that such credits were not used.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said the target was “a big moment for everyone in the climate movement” and a legacy May could be proud of. However, he said the “loopholes” of allowing international carbon credits would need to be unpicked and the target date moved forward.
“As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it is right that the UK is the world’s first major economy to commit to completely end its contribution to climate change, but trying to shift the burden to developing nations through international carbon credits undermines that commitment,” he said. “This type of offsetting has a history of failure and is not, according to the government’s climate advisers, cost-efficient.”

May, who will mark the target on Wednesday by meeting science and engineering students, said it was “the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children”.

She said: “This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth. Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”

The plan was endorsed by the CBI’s head, Carolyn Fairbairn, who said such efforts “can drive UK competitiveness and secure long-term prosperity”.
She added: “Some sectors will need clear pathways to enable investment in low-carbon technologies, and it is vital that there is cross-government coordination on the policies and regulation needed to deliver a clean future.”

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