Climate emergency: UK steps up emission reduction target, but campaigners demand more action

Boris Johnson says UK cutting greenhouse gases faster than any major economy

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 03 December 2020 23:52
What is the Paris climate agreement?

Boris Johnson has vowed to sharply step up the pace of the UK’s decarbonisation efforts, by setting a more ambitious target for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decade.

Ahead of a crucial United Nations climate summit to be co-hosted by the UK later this month, the prime minister pledged to cut emissions to 68 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, up from the previous commitment of 53 per cent.

Mr Johnson, who last month set out a 10-point plan for green growth, said the new target would put the UK on the fastest carbon-reduction track of any major economy as the UK progresses towards net-zero emissions by 2050.

The announcement came after the independent Committee on Climate Change recommended a 68 per cent target, urging the PM to make a commitment that was “as bold as possible, to inspire other world leaders to follow suit”.

It was hailed as a step in the right direction by environmentalists, but campaigners said the PM needed to go further to rein in the climate emergency caused by rising global temperatures.

And Labour said there was “a yawning gap” between the government’s aspirations and the policies it has in place to deliver them.

Ed Matthew of the Climate Coalition – which brings together 140 organisations fighting for action on global warming – described the PM’s new goal as “important progress but not sufficient”.

“A more ambitious cut is both feasible and necessary to keep us safe and reflect our massive historic carbon emissions,” said Mr Matthew. “We must remember too that the climate will not respond to targets, it will respond to carbon cuts. It is action that counts.”

And John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The prime minister is right to have set one of the most ambitious climate targets in the world. But given the urgency of the climate crisis and the rapid advances in zero-carbon solutions, ambition can be pushed even higher over the next decade. The government must now increase the action needed to cut emissions from our homes, roads, farms and power sources in the UK.”

The new target will be formally launched at the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December, the fifth anniversary of the historic Paris summit at which the international community agreed to take action to keep global warming below 2C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C.

The 195 nations signing up to the Paris Agreement were required to submit “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) towards the overall goal, with the EU pledging to cut a minimum of 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels; and China aiming to ensure its carbon dioxide production peaks by 2027. Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2017, but president-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin on day one of his administration.

Signatories are obliged to conduct a review of their NDCs every five years, with the aim of strengthening climate action over time.

But the review process was thrown into disarray by the global coronavirus pandemic, which forced the postponement of this year’s planned Cop26 summit, now taking place in Glasgow in 2021.

Only a handful of countries including Japan, Norway and New Zealand have so far announced enhanced NDCs for 2020, though many others have voiced their intention to do so.

The UK is calling on other nations to follow its lead by beefing up commitments at this month’s summit.

Mr Johnson said: “We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process – uniting businesses, academics, NGOs and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change.

“Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030, faster than any major economy, with our 10-point plan helping us on our path to reach it.

“But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders as part of next week’s Climate Ambition Summit to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net-zero targets.”

Mr Johnson’s 10-point plan set out plans to invest in innovative technologies to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs in the UK while cutting greenhouse emissions.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary and Cop26 president, called for similar initiatives from other countries.  

“As a country, we have demonstrated we can both rapidly cut carbon emissions while creating new jobs, new technologies and future-proof industries that will generate economic growth for decades to come,” said Mr Sharma.

“The UK’s new emissions target is among the highest in the world and reflects the urgency and scale of the challenge our planet faces. I hope other countries join us and raise the bar at next week’s UN Climate Ambition Summit, and ahead of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow next year.”

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, welcomed the strengthening of the 2030 target, but said it was the minimum the UK should be aiming for.

“Our goal should be to go further and faster, cutting the significant majority of emissions in this decisive decade, which is the right way to lead in creating the climate jobs of the future and keeping global warming below 1.5C,” said Mr Miliband.

“As we move to this higher target, it is clear there is now a yawning gap between the government's aspirations and its policies to deliver them. The government didn’t have the policies to meet their previous target and the chasm will be even greater now.”

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