UK submits ambitious NDC to UNFCCC
The UK Government has submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC, with a strengthened 2030 goal of at least a 68% reduction below 1990 levels (1995 levels for some gases), committing the UK to an ambitious level of domestic climate action. This equates to a 69% reduction below 1990 levels once emissions from LULUCF are excluded and non-CO2 gases are converted to global warming potentials (AR4) as used in the UK's current inventory.
The 68% target is a significant strengthening of its previous 57% target, and is also aligned with the UK’s 2050 net-zero GHG emissions target. However, the UK has yet to adopt and implement ambitious policies necessary to achieve this new 2030 target and firmly set itself on a path to net zero. Once it does, it will become one of the first countries globally to bring its domestic emissions into line with what would be necessary globally for the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
The CAT is not currently able to provide a fair-share rating for the UK NDC target, due to methodological complexities associated with leaving the EU. However, it is clear that additional emissions reductions achieved abroad, through support measures such as climate finance and/or international credits, will be necessary. The total fair-share contribution of the UK – domestic emissions reductions and emissions reductions achieved abroad – would need to be equivalent to the UK reaching close to zero emissions by 2030.
CAT analysis of NDC update
On 12 December 2020, the UK submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC, committing to “at least a 68%” reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels (1995 levels for F-gases) by 2030.
Achievement of the NDC target will be measured against the UK’s GHG inventory published in 2032, which will utilise global warming potentials (GWP) for non-CO2 gases from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). In addition, it will include an updated methodology for estimating emissions from peatlands.
After accounting for these methodological changes, as well as the fact that the base year for F-gases will be 1995 levels rather than 1990, the UK’s statutory advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has calculated the 2030 emissions level implied by the 68% target to be 277 MtCO2e (including LULUCF emissions).
The CAT uses GWP values from the AR4 and excludes LULUCF emissions. The UK’s NDC target is equivalent to 251 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF (245 MtCO2e incl. LULUCF) using AR4 values and the existing peatland methodology (see assumptions for more details). This represents a 69% reduction below 1990 levels (excl. LULUCF and with 1995 levels for F gases). The target does not cover emissions from the UK’s Crown Dependencies or Overseas Territories, which represent about 1% of the UK’s emissions.
A 68% reduction in domestic GHG emissions is a significant strengthening of its previous 2030 target of a 57% reduction below 1990 levels (including LULUCF) derived from the UK’s fifth carbon budget (2028-2032). It is also broadly aligned with the rate of necessary global emissions reductions implied by 1.5°C global mitigation pathways published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The UK Government’s recently-released emissions projections show that, under current policies, it is not on track to achieve its former 57% target, let alone its newly announced 68% target. Recently-announced policies, including a 2030 ban on the sale of fossil fuel cars and a ramping up of renewable energy investment, particularly into offshore wind, are the kind of ambitious actions that will be required across all sectors of the UK economy to meet its new 2030 NDC and its 2050 net-zero target. This has been acknowledged by the UK in its NDC, with a commitment to develop further policies over time.
The NDC does not include additional emissions reductions from abroad to ensure the UK is contributing its fair share to the global 1.5°C emissions reduction burden under equity considerations. The UK Government has committed to not using international credits to meet its NDC domestic target in line with advice from the CCC; however, it leaves the possibility open in its official NDC submission. However, the CCC noted that it supports the use of such credits to move beyond the 68% target. It further asserted that the UK NDC should be accompanied by greater support for climate finance, particularly for developing countries.
The advice of the CCC aligns with the CAT’s assessment of the UK’s announced NDC that additional emissions reductions abroad, beyond its 68% domestic reduction target, are required for the UK to achieve a fully 1.5°C compatible fair share contribution to the necessary global emissions reductions.
Due to methodological complexities stemming from the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the CAT is not currently able to provide an exact fair-share rating for the UK’s announced NDC. We will provide a rating upon resolution of these methodological requirements.
The UK now has a golden opportunity to lead from the front as host of the pivotal 2021 UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP26). The UK should leverage its ambitious new 2030 NDC by pressuring world leaders that have not already done so to set similarly ambitious 2030 targets and long-term net-zero targets. In addition, an announcement prior to COP26 of considerable support measures to poorer nations towards climate mitigation efforts would make the UK a true global front-runner beyond its ambitious new domestic target.
The UK NDC covers emissions from the land use, land use change and forestry sector (LULUCF), and as such, we assume removals from this sector in line with the latest government emissions projections under current policies to quantify the target excluding LULUCF emissions.
We assume the baseline emissions figure for 1990 are those calculated by the Committee on Climate Change (862 MtCO2e), which uses global warming potentials (GWP) for non-CO2 emissions from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and an updated methodology for estimating emissions from UK peatlands. These emissions are assumed to the basis for the UK’s 68% emissions reduction target for 2030.
By assuming a consistent ratio of non-CO2 gases between 2018 to 2030, and subsequently subtracting the 2018 level of peatland emissions calculated using the updated methodology adopted by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (21 MtCO2e), it is possible to estimate total 2030 GHG emissions using AR4 GWPs and under the existing methodology for estimating peatland emissions (245 MtCO2e including LULUCF). Adjusting for projected 2030 LULUCF emissions in the UK’s latest emissions projections under current policies gives total emissions of 251 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF.
 Chris Evans et al. (2019) Implementation of an Emissions Inventory for UK Peatlands