The Climate Change Act 2008 set out a legally binding target to reduce the UK’s emissions by 80% against 1990 levels by 2050, which was updated in July 2019 to net zero by the same date.
To meet these targets, the Government has set five yearly carbon budgets which legally restrict the amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit during the period.
The independent Committee on Climate Change scrutinises government performance regarding its obligations and makes recommendations to help the UK meet its target.
According to the committee, in 2018 the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were 44% below 1990 levels, meaning the country has met the first and second carbon budgets and is on track to meet the third. Coal now accounts for just 5% of UK electricity generation and low carbon power generation accounts for more than half of the UK’s energy needs. Coal fired power stations are set to be phased out by 2025.
In July 2019 the committee published its latest update report, which acknowledged the progress the Government has made so far and stated there was cause for optimism the UK could become carbon neutral by 2050.
However, it warned most of the country’s greenhouse gas emission reductions over the last five years had been achieved in electricity generation, with little progress being made in other sectors. It also warned the UK is currently on course to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (2023 to 2032) and is inadequately prepared to cope with a rise in global temperatures of two degrees Celsius.
The committee has recommended a series of new policy actions including:
- Bringing the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles forward from 2040 to 2030 or 2035
- Stronger incentives to purchase cleaner vehicles
- Plans for the roll out of zero emissions HGVs
- Schemes to support walking, cycling and public transport
- Improving energy efficiency in industry by 20% by 2030
- Capital support for industry decarbonisation
- The development of a low carbon heat strategy
- New build standards to ensure new homes are ultra efficient and use low carbon heating by 2025
- The planting of 30,000+ hectares of forest every year
- Plans for networks to be capable of meeting higher demand for electrical energy
- A ban on the landfilling of biodegradable waste by 2025
The Government published its response in October 2019 which summarised existing achievements and set out future plans including:
- An ambition to install another 30GW of offshore wind power by 2030
- The introduction of a Smart Export Guarantee, ensuring from January 1 2020 homes and businesses installing solar, wind or other forms of low carbon energy generation receive payment for each unit of electricity they export
- A commitment to introducing a future homes standard, meaning new build homes must be future proofed with low carbon heating and the highest standard of energy efficiency
- An increase in the amount of green gas used in the gas grid to reduce the need to burn natural gas
- Analysing options for the long-term decarbonisation of heat with a view to publishing a roadmap in summer 2020
- Continuing to invest in carbon capture technology
- Plans to introduce measures to increase recycling and reduce waste through the national waste strategy
- Funding to support businesses to improve their energy efficiency
- A new tree strategy to review the Government’s tree planting ambitions to help support the 2050 target
Read the Government’s full response to the Committee on Climate Change for more information. In addition to this there is also the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, published in January 2018 and the forthcoming Environment Bill, which contains a range of proposals around resource management and environmental protection. Both of these support the targets and ambitions set out in the Climate Change Act.