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UK climate change: are we on track to meet the new 2030 targets?

In a pledge that represents the fastest cut in emissions of any major economy, the UK Government have announced ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions by 68% before 2030.1

There is no doubt that this is a positive step toward tackling climate change and the announcement has been broadly welcomed2 – but is it achievable? Described as a ‘colossal challenge’ by the National Audit Office,3 meeting such demanding targets – which are part of the even more ambitious goal of becoming net carbon zero by 2050 – requires significant political, budgetary and industry support.

Research by the London School of Economics (LSE) has found that it is economically feasible for UK emissions to be cut by 72%,4 but not everyone believes the new targets are achievable; according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)“ministers still don’t have a coordinated strategy to realise the goal of removing almost all the carbon emissions from Britain by 2050”.

The UK Government, however, states that reports like these are inaccurate and unfair.5

A Green Industrial Revolution

So, how is the UK planning to meet these targets?   The UK Government has established two ministerial cabinet committees and a Net Zero Steering Board, who will oversee the strategy and delivery of the policies needed to meet the targets,6 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a ten-point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’.7

The PM appears confident that the targets are achievable – speaking at the Climate Ambition Summit in late 2020, Johnson stated that;  

“Together we can reduce our emissions, we can radically cut our dependence on fossil fuels, we can change our agricultural practices, and in short, we can reverse the process by which for centuries, humanity has been quilting our planet in a toxic tea-cosy of greenhouse gases”.8 In another speech, he boldly stated that he wanted to turn the UK into “the Saudi Arabia of wind power”.9

The proposed ten-point plan sets out the approach the UK Government will take to ‘build back better’ and accelerate the UK’s path to net zero. Costing £12 billion of government investment – and reportedly three times that amount in funds from the private sector – the plan aims to create and support up to 250,000 jobs in areas such as delivering new and advanced nuclear power, advancing offshore wind, green public transport and green finance and innovation.10

Impact of the Budget

Coming just three months after the 68% emissions cut announcement, and the last Budget before the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, the 2021 UK Budget has been a key focus point for climate change supporters, who hoped to see plentiful funds allocated to support the Governments’ green agenda. One of the most significant announcements from the 2021 Budget announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was that net zero now forms part of the UK’s overall economic policy strategy, with the objective to transition the UK to an environmentally sustainable and resilient net zero economy through regulation, investment in skills, infrastructure and innovation.11

In addition, the UK Government has launched a new National Infrastructure Bank, which will use a £22bn financial capacity to help to boost investment and accelerate progress in infrastructure that will help the UK to achieve net carbon zero.12 The Chancellor also pledged the release of at least £15bn of ‘green gilts’13 – a type of government bond where funds raised must be directed to renewable energy or clean energy projects14  – which the Bank of England has already been mandated to buy.15

Reactions from climate experts to the Budget have been mixed.

“[The] Budget feels light on the promised content to augment a sustainable recovery for the U.K. post-pandemic, particularly given the U.K.’s presidency of the COP26 later this year” commented James MacGregor, Senior Environmental Economist at environmental consultancy, Ramboll.16

The opposition party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, agreed, stating that “the Chancellor talks up his green credentials but his budget stops way short of what is needed or what is happening in other countries…[it] should have included a major green stimulus, bringing forward billions of pounds of investment to create new jobs and new green infrastructure.”17

However, the introduction of the new Infrastructure Bank and green gilts have been generally well received by academics and industry insiders.18

“The government knows that it needs to make investments to meet the U.K.’s legally-binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions … The £15 billion of green gilts and the green savings bonds are important pieces of this puzzle—and an attempt for the U.K.’s finance sector to also play a role in the green finance world” commented Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London.19

The addition of net zero to the UK economic policy objectives was also praised. Experts are hopeful that its addition will not only ensure that climate change continues to be prominent in future budgets, but that it could also force banks to consider climate change risk as part of its emergency coronavirus response – especially after they faced criticism from green groups in 2020 for ignoring climate change when buying corporate debt to prop up the economy.20

The biggest challenge of our time

Climate change is a global issue and the route to net zero is complex. Each country faces its own challenges and lasting change requires action and buy-in from stakeholders at every level. Countries representing more than 65% of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70% of the world economy, have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality.21 How – and if – they will achieve these targets remains to be seen.

As we get closer to target deadlines, the demand for professionals who can apply knowledge of climate conditions and legal frameworks will increase. An Online LLM in Energy and Environmental Law will give you the knowledge and skills you need to lead positive change within this critical field. For more information please fill out our request for information form or contact a member of our Admissions team on +44 (0)800 032 7101.

References

  1. DEPARTMENT FOR BUSINESS, ENERGY & INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY (2020) UK sets ambitious new climate target ahead of UN Summit (Online) Available at: < https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-sets-ambitious-new-climate-target-ahead-of-un-summit> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  2. HARRABIN, R (2020) Climate change: UK aim of 68% emissions cut a ‘colossal challenge’ (Online) Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55179008> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  3. NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE (2020) Climate change: UK aim of 68% emissions cut a ‘colossal challenge’ (Online) Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55179008> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  4. LSE (2020) Climate change: UK aim of 68% emissions cut a ‘colossal challenge’ (Online) Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55179008> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  5. HARRABIN, R (2021) Government has no climate change plan – MPs (Online) Available at: < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56285239> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  6. NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE (2020) Achieving net zero (Online) Available at: <https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Achieving-net-zero.pdf> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  7. JOHNSON, B (2020) PM Climate Ambition Summit opening remarks: 12 December 2020 (Online) Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-climate-ambition-summit-opening-remarks-12-december-2020> [Accessed 10.01.21]
  8. JOHNSON, B (2020) PM Climate Ambition Summit opening remarks: 12 December 2020 (Online) Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-climate-ambition-summit-opening-remarks-12-december-2020> [Accessed 10.01.21]
  9. JOHNSON, B (2020) UK can be ‘Saudi Arabia of wind power’ – PM (Online) Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54285497> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  10. DEPARTMENT FOR BUSINESS, ENERGY & INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY (2020) The ten point plan for a green industrial revolution (Online) Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  11. SUNAK, R (2021) REMIT FOR THE MONETARY POLICY COMMITTEE (MPC) (Online) Available at: <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/965782/2021_MPC_remit_FINAL_1_March_.pdf> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  12. HM TREASURY (2021) UK Infrastructure Bank Policy Design (Online) Available at: <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/966131/UKIB_Policy_Design.pdf> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  13. CARBON BRIEF (2021) Budget 2021: Key climate and energy announcements (Online) Available at: <https://www.carbonbrief.org/budget-2021-key-climate-and-energy-announcements> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  14. MENIN, A (2020) Explainer: What are green bonds? And how will the UK’s first green gilts work? (Online) Available at: <https://www.cityam.com/explainer-what-are-green-bonds-and-how-will-the-uks-first-green-gilts-work/> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  15. FINANCIAL TIMES (2021) Bank of England given new mandate to buy ‘green’ bonds (Online) Available at: <https://www.ft.com/content/f436d69b-2bf0-48cd-bb34-644856fba17f?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20210304&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20Daily> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  16. MACGREGOR, J (2021) How Green Is The New U.K. Budget? Climate Experts Deliver Their Verdict (Online) Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2021/03/03/how-green-is-the-new-uk-budget-climate-experts-deliver-their-verdict/?sh=596a8d4d21ec> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  17. STARMER, K (2021) Budget 2021: No ‘green revolution’ from Sunak (Online) Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56270528> [Accessed 03.10.21]
  18. VETTER, D (2021) How Green Is The New U.K. Budget? Climate Experts Deliver Their Verdict (Online) Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2021/03/03/how-green-is-the-new-uk-budget-climate-experts-deliver-their-verdict/?sh=596a8d4d21ec> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  19. GILBERT, A (2021) How Green Is The New U.K. Budget? Climate Experts Deliver Their Verdict (Online) Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2021/03/03/how-green-is-the-new-uk-budget-climate-experts-deliver-their-verdict/?sh=596a8d4d21ec> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  20. CARBON BRIEF (2021) Budget 2021: Key climate and energy announcements (Online) Available at: <https://www.carbonbrief.org/budget-2021-key-climate-and-energy-announcements> [Accessed 10.03.21]
  21. UNITED NATIONS (2020) The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it (Online) Available at: <https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1078612> [Accessed 10.03.21]