#ClimateGoals: UK government enshrines new target in law

May 1, 2021

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

The UK is to enshrine in law its commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, as compared to 1990 levels.

What does this mean?

This target is in line with the already legally enshrined aim to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050, as well as a previous interim target of reducing emissions by 68% by 2030. The latest government statistics suggest the government has already reduced emissions by 44% compared to 1990 levels.

The government has every reason to be seen to be active on the topic of climate change, as it prepares to host the COP 26 global summit in Glasgow in November of this year. The summit postponed a year due to the pandemic, is designed to follow on from the Paris Climate Summit of 2015 and requires all attendees to lay out plans to reach net-zero.

The government has also laid out plans to make Britain a home of green technologies. This, according to the government, was one of the advantages of Brexit, as Britain will be able to determine its own regulation of the industry and foster innovation. This falls under the Global Britain initiative, intended to push the nation to be a global leader in years to come.

What's the big picture effect?

So far, the UK has done remarkably well in lowering its carbon emissions as compared to other nations committed to similar targets. The 44% reduction, already achieved, would suggest the government is in a good position to meet its self-imposed targets.

However, much of this reduction has been done by switching power production from coal to natural gas, which produces approximately half the emissions. Whilst in the short term this is an effective way to reduce emissions, it effectively locks in these emission levels for a long period.

Whilst writing this goal into the statute books will draw focus to the issue, it by no means ensures the country will meet the target. We saw an example of this towards the end of last year, when the ongoing target of 0.7% of GDP spending on foreign aid, similarly enshrined in law, was broken. Parliament is still the ultimate power and can change its targets as it sees fit.

The government has yet to release any clear plans as to how it will achieve this ambitious target. The target derives from a Climate Change Committee (CCC) report, which said the target must be met if the government is to meet its 2050 net-zero goal. If Britain is to achieve these targets, it must begin to put in place measures to curb carbon emissions over the long run and a clear roadmap going forward within the term of this government.

The CCC has suggested that gas should be phased out of the UK’s power production by 2035 if it is to meet its targets. This has forced plans for new gas power plants, including plans to build the largest gas power plant in Europe, to be reconsidered.

Although the government’s promises are encouraging and suggest a concerted effort to follow through on good intentions, it is not the same as reaching net zero. Therefore, these targets should be regarded as checkpoints and greater scrutiny should be paid to plans to bring about decarbonisation, as they emerge in the coming months.

Report written by Joshua White

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