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Is the UK achieving its net-zero promise?

Is the UK achieving its net-zero promise?

(POOL/AFP/Getty)

 (POOL/AFP/Getty)

(POOL/AFP/Getty)

The UK’s pledge to slash carbon emissions by 78 per cent over the next 14 years will not be delivered unless more ambition action is taken, official climate advisers have warned.

The target won praise after being submitted to the UN ahead of November’s Cop26 conference as part of the UK’s official climate plan.

The Committee on Climate Change, which advises government, said this week that ministers don’t have the policies in place yet to keep their promise.

“We need to walk the talk and urgently deliver actions in the Net Zero Strategy,” said John Gummer, the committee’s chair.

What are the government’s promises?

In 2019, the UK law stipulated that the country must be netzero by 2050.

In April of this year, Boris Johnson’s government went further and announced two further targets: to slash carbon emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 and by 78 per cent by 2035.

This pledge was submitted to the UN ahead of November’s Cop26 conference as part of the UK’s official climate plan and was widely praised as a world-leading commitment.

What do ministers mean when they say they will meet the targets?

The government published a Net Zero Strategy in October, promising a variety of measures to achieve its goals.

These included the phasing-out of gas boilers in homes by 2030, requiring carmakers to sell more electric vehicles, and further growing off-shore wind and other renewables. By 2035, the plan stated, all electricity would be generated by clean energy. A greater investment would be made in hydrogen production, and the number of trees would be tripled.

Speaking at the time of the strategy’s publication, Boris Johnson said: “The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries – powering our green industrial revolution across the country.”

Yet, even then, environmentalists – while welcoming the promises – were sceptical, warning that ministers had consistently failed to achieve similar targets in the past.

Why does the CCC claim that not enough is being achieved?

In a post-Cop26 assessment published on Thursday, the CCC welcomed the summit as marking “a step forward in global efforts to address climate change”.

However, it stated that the UK didn’t have the policies in force to meet its targets.

“The next year is critical for climate action in the UK and internationally,” said Lord Deben, John Gummer, chair of the CCC. “At home, we need to walk the talk and urgently deliver actions in the net zero strategy.”

In a pertinent warning, he added that success would ultimately only be “measured in climate risks averted – not words on a page”.

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What actions does CCC want to see?

The CCC’s new assessment focuses mainly on two areas.

First, it is important to take more steps to reduce emissions from more sectors. And, secondly – and perhaps more importantly – that there should be greater monitoring to ensure targets are actually being met.

According to the report, ministers should reconsider the tax system in order eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Companies should be required to decarbonize their supply chain by new legislation. We should also look into ways to stop the import of high carbon goods.

It says more must be done on implementing change in the agricultural sector; and also calls for behavioural change – including reducing meat eating and limiting flying – to be recognised as key to achieving success.

It also points out that the UK must take action on what it has promised.

“The UK should focus its efforts on strengthening delivery rather than increasing its headline target, and seek ways to supplement current plans,” it says.

And it adds: “These need a clear vision backed by quantitative targets, strong cross government policy to respond to key climate risks and a robust approach to monitoring and evaluation.”

Internationally, meanwhile, it calls for the UK to play a “vital role in driving progress…across mitigation, adaptation and finance”, and calls for the restoration of 0.7 per cent of GDP to be spent on international aid to help climate initiatives across the world.

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