21 APR 2021


The UK government’s newly announced plan to set a legal target of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels has so far received a mixed response from industry leaders and opposition groups – with calls for action to match the rhetoric in the fight against climate change.

Under the new government proposals, The UK’s sixth Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions for the first time, bringing the UK more than three-quarters of the way to net zero by 2050.

Prior to enshrining its net zero commitment in law, the UK had a target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. Now the government is aiming to achieve almost the same level 15 years earlier.

This comes ahead of prime minister Boris Johnson addressing the opening session of the US Leaders’ Summit on Climate, hosted by President Biden on Earth Day (22 April). The prime minister will urge countries to raise ambition on tackling climate change and join the UK in setting stretching targets for reducing emissions by 2030 to align with net zero.

The new target will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021, with legislation setting out the UK government’s commitments laid in Parliament today. (21/4/21).

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We want to continue to raise the bar on tackling climate change, and that’s why we’re setting the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world. We want to see world leaders follow our lead and match our ambition in the run up to the crucial climate summit COP26, as we will only build back greener and protect our planet if we come together to take action.”

Through its presidency of the crucial UN climate summit, COP26, which will take place in Glasgow later this year, the UK is also urging countries and companies around the world to join the UK in delivering net zero globally by the middle of the century and set ambitious targets for cutting emissions by 2030.

COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma, said: “This hugely positive step forward for the UK sets a gold standard for ambitious Paris-aligned action that I urge others to keep pace with ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year. We must collectively keep 1.5 degrees of warming in reach and the next decade is the most critical period for us to change the perilous course we are currently on.

“Long term targets must be backed up with credible delivery plans and setting this net zero focused sixth Carbon Budget builds on the world leading legal framework in our Climate Change Act. If we are to tackle the climate crisis and safeguard lives, livelihoods and nature for future generations, others must follow the UK’s example.”

Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “The UK’s sixth Carbon Budget is the product of the most comprehensive examination ever undertaken of the path to a fully decarbonised economy. I am delighted that the government has accepted my committee’s recommendations in full.”

CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said: “As COP26 hosts, the UK government is leading by example by setting this stretching target. By tackling this together, we can reap the benefits of transition to a low-carbon economy. The target emphasises the importance of the 2020s as a decade of delivery on our climate ambitions, and urgent action is needed now to make this a reality.”

Shaun Spiers, executive director of the Green Alliance, said: “The inclusion of international aviation and shipping is particularly important, showing climate leadership in the year we are hosting the Glasgow climate summit. What we need now is to ensure there is no gap between ambition and policy, so the UK has the right tools in its armoury to meet these targets.”

Industry Reaction:

Industry reaction to the news has so far been generally mixed, with leading figures welcoming the government’s scale of ambition but calling for greater clarity on policy and action to successfully deliver net zero. 

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “This ambitious target provides an important signal of intent, and raises the bar on the level of collaboration that will be required between government and private sector. Government urgently needs to set out clear, funded plans to support delivery of the infrastructure needed to support the journey to net zero.

“The commission repeats its call for detailed polices, developed in partnership with industry, to deliver the necessary developments such as sufficient electric vehicle charging points, taking concrete steps to decarbonise the country’s heating supply, and schemes to significantly improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s homes.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UK Green Building Council said: "This is exactly the level of ambition the UK should be displaying if it wants to strengthen its position as a world leader on tackling climate change. However, a major shortcoming of previous government targets has been its inability to meet them. We're currently on track to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, meaning we urgently need the policies and practical solutions which will enable us to deliver on this commitment, not just dream about it.

"Before talking up his away game and acting like the UK is in a climate 'super league', the PM needs to start getting his home form in order, and ensure he's not missing open goals. If we are to take this new target seriously, government must clearly map out how it plans to tackle the carbon emissions attributable to the built environment, which account for approximately 40% of UK emissions."

Ben Harris, Arcadis’ UK climate change & sustainability director, and Catherine Greaves, Arcadis’ sector managing director – environment, safety & industry, welcomed the news. In a joint statement, they said: “The inclusion of aviation and shipping presents an opportunity for the UK to build on its strengths to progress the development and deployment of new technology and capability that can be used globally. The challenge now is to take the practical steps to make this a reality.

“The Committee on Climate Change has set out the challenge to take advantage of the reduction in the costs of key technologies. We now need teams that can make every penny count, managing costs and delivering at the scale and speed needed to meet this challenge."

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “Ministers have failed to bring forward an ambitious green recovery, passing up three major fiscal events to do so … and are way off track for our net zero targets. We need a government that treats the climate emergency as the emergency it is. That means greater ambition than this government matched with much more decisive action. This year, as hosts of COP26, the UK has a particular responsibility to lead the world and show the way forward for a greener future. This government isn’t up to the task.”


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