Climate change: UK sets in law world's most ambitious target for reducing emissions

April 19, 2021

The UK government is to set in law the world's most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

And, as reported by Sky News earlier, the UK's Sixth Carbon Budget will incorporate, for the first time, the country's share of international aviation and shipping emissions.

It will mean an increase in ambition on the international pledge made by the UK government last December to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030.

In line with the recommendation from the independent Climate Change Committee, this Sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a five-year period from 2033-2037, taking the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050.

This will ensure Britain remains on track to end its contribution to climate change while remaining consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts towards 1.5°C.

The new target will become enshrined in law by the end of June, with legislation setting out the UK government's commitments laid in Parliament on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the bold move was because he wanted to "continue to raise the bar on tackling climate change" hence "the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world".

But he added he now wanted to see others "follow our lead".

He said: "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."

The announcement comes in the week US President Joe Biden is hosting a virtual summit of world leaders aimed at driving forward global ambition on the climate, giving Boris Johnson something concrete to bring to the international table.

The US is expected to lay out its own emissions cuts at the event.

The budget also boosts the UK's credibility ahead of hosting the major COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

The UK can't afford to make its move too late with big polluting nations like China - under pressure to up its ambition - watching carefully.

However, the government is under pressure to back up the new target with policies and investment and put the foundations in place to reach net zero.

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Ed Matthew, campaigns director for the climate change think tank E3G, said: "Setting an ambitious emission reduction target would boost the UK's diplomatic drive to persuade other countries to set out ambitious targets of their own.

"That is one of the big tests of UK climate diplomacy ahead of the COP26 climate summit.

"The UK now has the opportunity to spark a global green industrial revolution but ultimately its credibility will rest on action. It must now put in place the policies and investment needed to achieve the target.

"That is the mark of true climate leadership."

The UK was one of the first major economies to commit to reaching net zero.

The improved emissions pledge would be an ambitious undertaking, but hitting the target is easier said than done.

Chris Venables, head of politics at the think tank Green Alliance, said: "Without bold and urgent action in this parliament, the UK's climate targets could slip out of reach.

"There's a significant gap between what the government says it would like to do on climate versus what is happening on the ground - targets like this one make it even more important they match ambition with reality."

The world is not currently on track to reduce its emissions enough to keep global warming within the goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and well below 2°C.

But global emissions are still going up. A cut in emissions of 45% globally is needed in the next 10 years.

Every day at 6.30pm Sky News broadcasts the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show is following Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.

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