UK unveils new climate target to cut emissions by 68% by 2030

3 December 2020, 23:48

Boris Johnson has announced a new UK target for reducing carbon emissions
Boris Johnson has announced a new UK target for reducing carbon emissions. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has unveiled a new climate target for the UK to cut its carbon emissions by more than two-thirds by 2030.

The prime minister said the "ambitious" target would see Britain reducing its emissions at the fastest rate of any major economy so far.

It would see greenhouse gases drop by at least 68 per cent on 1990 levels and goes further than previous plans which, under domestic climate law, set the country a target of 61 per cent.

The figure is also considerably higher than the UK's Paris Agreement target, as part of its contribution to the European Union's overall aim, to cut emissions by 53 per cent - though the EU is expected to raise its ambition too.

Britain, which is to host the delayed United Nations Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow next year, is setting out its own national plan for the first time because of Brexit.

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Labour welcomed the announcement but called for a "minimum" threshold to be aimed for and a plan to meet the objective, such as a £30 billion stimulus for a green recovery in the next 18 months.

It also received support from environmental groups, however some said the UK needed policies to help it reach the target faster and that it could still go further.

Ed Matthew, from the Climate Coalition of environmental, social, faith and community organisations and aid agencies, said 68 per cent was a "step up in ambition" and in line with the UK's legal target to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050.

However, he added: "This is important progress but not sufficient. A more ambitious cut is both feasible and necessary to keep us safe and reflect our massive historic carbon emissions.

"We must remember too that the climate will not respond to targets, it will respond to carbon cuts. It is action that counts."

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Under the Paris Agreement, countries have committed to keep global warming to "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C, seen as the threshold beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt.

To meet the 1.5C target, the world's carbon emissions must fall to net-zero by 2050, with significant cuts in pollution and any remaining emissions offset by planting trees or using technology to capture carbon.

Britain has a legally binding target to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050 and other countries have committed to, or plan to hit, similar long term goals.

Existing national plans up to 2030 put the world well off-track to meet the goals, so countries are due to submit new proposals this year to cut emissions in the next decade.

The UK announcement comes ahead of a climate summit it is co-hosting with the United Nations and France on December 12 to mark five years since the Paris deal was agreed.

Countries are being urged to bring forward new ambitious climate plans as part of the online summit.

Last month, Mr Johnson unveiled a 10-point green plan for efforts to cut emissions, including phasing out conventional cars, increasing low carbon heating in homes, boosting offshore wind and rolling out hydrogen technology.

Setting out the new target, he said: "We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process - uniting businesses, academics, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change.

"Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030, faster than any major economy, with our 10 Point Plan helping us on our path to reach it.

"But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders as part of next week's Climate Ambition Summit to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net-zero targets."

The government's announcement comes in the wake of new UN reports detailing how 2020 was one of the hottest years on record, driving weather extremes, rising seas and wildfires. They also suggested that countries must cut fossil fuel production by 6 per cent a year to meet goals to curb dangerous climate change.

Business and Energy Secretary and Cop26 president Alok Sharma said: "The UK's new emissions target is among the highest in the world and reflects the urgency and scale of the challenge our planet faces.

"I hope other countries join us and raise the bar at next week's UN Climate Ambition Summit, and ahead of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow next year."

Government advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, recommended the target of at least 68 per cent cuts in a letter to the business secretary in recent days.

Committee chairman Lord Deben said it would be "eminently achievable" if effective policies were introduced across the economy without delay, which, in turn, would bring significant benefits for the UK's economic recovery.

Shadow business and energy secretary Ed Miliband said: "We welcome the important strengthening of the 2030 UK target. But we believe this is the minimum we should aim for.

"Our goal should be to go further and faster, cutting the significant majority of emissions in this decisive decade, which is the right way to lead in creating the climate jobs of the future and keeping global warming below 1.5C."

He warned of a "yawning gap" between the government's aspirations and policies to deliver them. He also called for a plan which would lay out the policies to tackle the climate emergency and do so in a way that creates jobs and is fair.