Government raises UK’s emissions target

New ambitious carbon reduction target include aviation and shipping for first time but critics say action, not rhetoric, is needed.

The government have announced ambitious new emissions targets ahead of hosting the next global climate conference later this year, but critics say they need to match “rhetoric with reality”.

In its Sixth Carbon Budget, published this week, Boris Johnson’s government has pledged to slash emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, an increase from the previous commitment of 68 per cent by 2030, from a baseline of 1990.

These legally binding targets will now include the UK’s share of aviation and shipping emissions, an area previously unaccounted for.

According to the statement made by the Ministry for Business, Energy, and Industry Strategy, it is the highest reduction target made by a major economy to date. 

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.”

The carbon budget is decided by government to ensure that the UK will meet the emissions targets set by the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

It comes ahead of the next UN Climate Change Conference in November, COP26, taking place on domestic soil in Glasgow.

COP26 president 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 ahead of COP26.”

The UK’s carbon emission reduction targets now include aviation and shipping for the first time. 

While the statement of intent has been welcomed, environmentalists and experts are concerned that there is a gap between what the government are saying and how they are acting. 

Dr Simon Evans, deputy editor at environmental outlet Carbon Brief said: “The UK’s climate goals are ambitious and, significantly, they now formally include international aviation and shipping.

“But the government’s own projections suggest the UK is not on track to meet its goals. In the six months before hosting the COP26 climate summit, the government has a series of chances to close the gap between ambition and delivery.”

Ed Miliband, shadow secretary for business, energy, and industrial strategy, told the BBC: “While any strengthening of our targets is the right thing to do, the government can’t be trusted to match rhetoric with reality.”

Other experts have said that the new emissions targets don’t go far enough to avoid irreversible environmental damages.

Adam Hardy, founder of Carbon Watchdog, a citizen action group for climate change, told Wicked Leeks: “The problem is that the target needs to be 2040, not 2050. The government are patting themselves on the back for being world climate leaders, but they’re looking at it through the lens of business as usual and not the real crisis it is.”


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  1. Boris and his government talk the talk, it’s long past the time for walking the walk. We don’t even charge tax on air raft fuel. We discuss ope ing coal mines , spend a fortune on a environmental disaster of a new railway, yet spend a pittance on sustainable farming, and any scheme that would improve things. Shame on you MPs, you’re like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

  2. Sadly, I consider this commitment, like those of previous Conservative governments since 2015, next to worthless for several reasons.

    Firstly, historically, these commitments have not been matched by commensurate actions. On the contrary, these Conservative governments have done their utmost to dismantle climate policy. Here is a short list –
    -Abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change (2015);
    – Spent £26 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2015, between 3 and 4 times the renewable subsidy;
    – Sold the Green Investment Bank (2015);
    – Stopped financing the Green Deal Finance Company (2015);
    – Scrapped the green deal home improvement fund (2015);
    – Removed Climate Change Levy Exemptions from renewable electricity (2015);
    – Cut subsidies for onshore wind and solar energy (2015);
    – Scrapped zero carbon homes standard (2015);
    – Increased the discount on taxation applied to carbon intensive industries (2016);
    – Halved the Supplementary Charge on North Sea oil & gas (2016);
    – Approved third runway for Heathrow (2016);
    – Report on shale gas exploration – government “undertaking crucial work on communications to increase public acceptability of shale gas.” (2016);
    – Announced 20m in funding for a second round of seismic surveys for North Sea oil and gas (2016);
    – Abolished the 35% tax collected from the profits of oil and gas production and backdated new 0% rate to 1 January 2016;
    – Announced an effective moratorium on new support for low-carbon electricity (2017);
    – Carbon Price Floor not extended beyond 2025 (2017);
    – Expenditure on decarbonisation more than halved between 2015 and 2017;
    – Climate change not included in the Five Giant Challenges in the Conservative Manifesto, Forward Together (2017);
    – Additional cost to consumers from agreed strike price of £92.50/MWh for Hinkley C nuclear energy estimated at 50 billion (2017);
    – Committee on Climate Change – government not on track to deliver fourth and fifth carbon budgets (2018);
    – Declared a climate emergency without any plan for mitigating emergency action (2019);
    – CCC report on decarbonisation “The whole thing is really run … like a Dad’s Army. We can’t go on with this ramshackle system.” (2019);
    – Conservative party voted for a PM, who according to Claire Perry, “doesn’t really understand” climate change (2019);
    – Appointed several cabinet ministers with links to organisations promoting climate denial (2019);
    – Invested £90 million in blue hydrogen generation, maintaining investment in natural gas mining (2020);
    – Amended the Environment Bill to allow government to overrule the Office of Environmental Protection (2020);
    – Failed to rule against the opening of a new coal mine (2021);
    – Scrapped the green homes grant scheme (2021);
    – Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – ministers have “no plan” to meet climate change targets, two years after setting them in law (2021);
    – Business Committee – COP 26 will fail unless government goals are made clear (2021);

    Secondly, the Climate Change Act of 2008 is toothless. Parliament has not been able to hold previous Conservative governments to account over their failure to deliver on the Fourth and Fifth carbon budgets.

    Thirdly, along with a growing number of scientists, I question the credibility of the advice to government provided by the Committee in Climate Change on several grounds, specifically:
    – its failure to properly address what is an equitable share of the remaining global carbon budget in setting U.K. emissions targets;
    – its emphasis on a net zero target which provides the government with an excuse to delay the pain of immediate emissions reductions in favour of tree planting and other forms of offsetting;
    – its focus on a 2050 net zero target which implies the development of a vast negative emissions industry (Carbon Capture and Storage) to save future generations from irreversible damage to the climate system and biosphere.

    An atmospheric scientist

    1. Dear Scientist
      Oh we agree with you – but what can we DO ??
      I heard someone predict today that this Prime Minister will last for ten years!!
      Will the CEE Bill get approval from MPs?
      Will people stop voting for the Conservatives??
      They are even reducing our right to protest.
      The Green Party in Germany is making progress but we need more Greens in our Parliament….

  3. Dear Spiral,

    I fully understand your frustration. I cannot see the CEE Bill progressing under the current government unless some calamitous natural disaster intervenes.

    What can we do? I guess that depends on your personal circumstances. I write letters to all and sundry – MPs, government ministers; I write articles for local magazines; and I have conversations with friends, family and the public about the climate crisis and the environment.

    I think the main hurdle to urgent action is a lack of understanding. The vast majority of the public do not appreciate the severity and urgency of the climate and ecological crises. Supporting organisations which produce relevant educational content for the public is a good way to make a contribution.


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