The current UK government is wrecking the United Kingdom’s long-held claims to climate leadership, making a series of U-turns on key climate policies, demonstrating chronic delays and a lack of vision in developing new policies, and actively undermining investor confidence in the country's commitment to climate action. As a result of these worsening policies, the CAT now rates UK’s overall climate action as “Insufficient”, one grade lower than before. The UK needs to urgently accelerate climate policy development and implementation to regain credibility on the global stage.
In September 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced, on the same day as the UN Secretary General's Climate Ambition Summit, that his government was backtracking on key climate policies, including the 2030 phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars, the 2035 phase-out of gas boilers, and the requirement for landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Weakening the UK’s climate policies will make it even harder for it to meet its legally binding climate targets, will cost UK households billions of pounds, creates unnecessary and damaging confusion for businesses during already turbulent times, and is deeply irresponsible when all countries need to be accelerating climate action.
September’s U-turns are just the latest sorry chapter in the UK’s story of climate action over the past year, which has been one of falling ambition, unnecessary delay and lost leadership. The UK’s chance of meeting its climate goals has declined substantially over the past year.
The CAT’s latest rating change is based on the actions and policies of the UK Government across the last year. Even before the U-turns of September 2023, the credibility of UK climate policy had fallen enough to result in a lower overall rating of “Insufficient”. However, the announcements of September 2023 confirms this lower rating.
In many areas, the government is actively moving in the wrong direction. As well as backtracking on key policies, the government is doubling down on support for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. These are short-sighted moves that make a mockery of the UK’s claim to climate leadership. The rate of energy efficiency improvements is falling and there is also reduced ambition on shifting transport choices towards sustainable options.
In other areas, government action has stalled, or is progressing at too slow a pace. This includes the electricity sector, where there is no coherent plan for system-wide decarbonisation, and the industrial sector, where there is a continued lack of action to support industrial electrification. Offshore wind deployment, which has been a huge success story in the UK, is faltering, and the transition to heat pumps is proceeding at far too slow a pace.
As a result, under 20% of the emission reductions required to meet the UK’s climate targets are supported by policies with proven delivery mechanisms and sufficient funding. Our emissions estimate for 2030 under current policies is now 16-19% higher than it was a year ago. This latest CAT assessment for the UK is not able to quantify the impact of the latest U-turns on the UK’s future emissions trajectory, but they will almost certainly increase future emissions. However, even based on the policy picture before these changes, the UK’s overall rating is now “Insufficient”, one grade lower than before.
There are some limited bright spots where a rapid transition towards a zero-carbon future is occurring, regardless of government inaction. This is particularly true in the transport sector, where almost one in every five cars sold in 2022 was fully electric, ahead of the government’s own net zero-consistent trajectory. However, the government has now sown needless uncertainty into this transition, which may deter some consumers from making the switch to electric.
In addition, any bright spots are overshadowed by the vast policy gaps that have yet to be addressed. These include:
- The electricity, agricultural and land-use sectors, for which there are no overall sectoral strategies to drive decarbonisation, despite repeated calls for their development.
- Buildings decarbonisation, where the UK is significantly off-track in both uptake of low-carbon heating and energy efficiency measures. The number of households installing energy efficiency improvements fell from 2021 to 2022, with insufficient and inconsistent funding a key barrier to action.
- Industrial electrification, which has no large-scale policies to support it (unlike hydrogen and CCS deployment).
- Behavioural and societal change, where the government is over-reliant on technological innovation to deliver emission reductions in surface transport, aviation and agriculture, rather than supporting and accelerating demand reduction strategies. This brings largescale delivery risks that could undermine emissions reductions.
- Fossil fuel supply, where the government is doubling down on support for oil and gas extraction from the North Sea, and approved development of the first coal mine in 30 years. Developing new fossil fuel projects is incompatible with the 1.5°C temperature limit, will not improve the UK’s energy security, and is damaging the UK’s international reputation.
The UK’s current climate targets also do not represent a fair share of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the UK is to contribute its fair share to global climate action, it will need to support more ambitious emissions reductions abroad.
Key to this is providing appropriate levels of climate finance to support emissions reductions in developing countries. However, the UK’s climate finance contributions have fallen short of its fair share contribution to the USD 100bn goal.
There are also worrying signs that the UK may break its current climate finance pledge, as reductions in the aid budget and a decision to pit climate against other development priorities combine to put pressure on climate finance flows. The UK Government insists that it remains committed to providing climate finance but must now actively demonstrate this by reversing recent years of underspending on climate finance.
Without a steep increase in UK climate finance contributions and increased action at home to cut emissions, any claims the UK would make to global leadership on climate action ring increasingly hollow. In this critical decade for climate action, the world urgently needs the UK to return to the table with a renewed commitment to climate action.
CAT rates the UK’s climate targets, policies and finance “Insufficient”. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the UK’s climate policies and commitments need substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit.
The "Insufficient" rating represents a lower rating from the November 2022 CAT assessment, which ranked the UK as "Almost sufficient". This change is due to two separate factors. First, and most importantly, our estimate of 2030 emissions under current policies has actually increased since our 2022 assessment, as the government is actively undermining climate action, watering down key policies and delaying the policy design and implementation so urgently needed. At the same time, we have updated our modelled domestic pathways to the latest pathways assessed by the AR6. This latest evidence shows that the UK needs to cut emissions faster to align with 1.5°C. These factors combined lead to a reduction in the UK’s 2030 target against modelled domestic pathways from ‘1.5°C compatible’ to ‘Almost sufficient’, and the UK’s policies and actions from "Almost sufficient" to "Insufficient".
The UK’s 2030 emissions target is not aligned with 1.5°C when compared to global least-cost modelled domestic pathways, produced by downscaling integrated assessment model (IAM) pathways to the country level. The UK’s target is therefore rated as "Almost sufficient".
However, there is a significant gap between targets and current policy trajectories in the UK. Under 20% of the emissions reductions needed to meet the UK’s targets are covered by policies which use proven delivery mechanisms and have sufficient funding to support them. Significant delivery risks remain in many areas, and the UK’s policies and actions are rated as "Insufficient".
Modelled domestic pathways alone also do not represent a fair emissions reduction pathway for the UK. When considering an equitable allocation of emission reductions across countries, the UK’s targets are far below what would represent a fair contribution. And the UK’s climate finance commitments, which could bridge the gap towards a fair distribution of global effort in cutting emissions, are “Highly insufficient” and need to be urgently increased.
Key measures required for the UK to improve its overall rating to "1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible" include:
- Increasing the ambition of these targets to fully align with the 1.5°C goal.
- Introducing and implementing additional policies, funding and delivery mechanisms to achieve the UK’s 2030 and 2050 climate targets.
- Substantially increasing international climate finance contributions, to ensure the UK is contributing its fair share to global climate mitigation efforts.
We rate the UK’s current policies until 2030 as “Insufficient”, a rating that indicates the UK’s climate policies and action need substantial improvements to be consistent with the 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow the UK’s approach, warming would reach up to 3°C. Our estimate of the UK’s emissions projections under current policies has increased by 16-19% compared to our 2022 update. That increase coupled with an update of our modelled domestic pathways to the latest science (the AR6 scenario dataset) has resulted in the UK's policies being rated lower than before, as "Insufficient" rather than "Almost Sufficient".
The UK Government set a net zero target in 2019, one of the first major economies to do so. The following two years were marked by a wide range of new policy announcements, culminating in the Net Zero Strategy, released in October 2021. While these measures left major policy gaps, and progress was too slow, there was a sense of forward momentum in UK climate policy.
The current government has now put the handbrake on this momentum and the UK’s climate policy has gone into reverse. The latest update to the Net Zero Strategy (after the previous strategy was found unlawful by the UK High Court for its lack of transparency) demonstrated that many of the UK’s climate ambitions remain merely that – aspirations unsupported by credible policies, clear timelines or appropriate funding.
Not only is the UK Government releasing weak policy documents with insufficient action, it is also actively weakening key policies that will be essential for cutting the UK’s emissions. This short-sighted bonfire of climate policy is deeply regrettable.
In June 2023, the UK’s Climate Change Committee found that credible policies exist for only 20% of the emissions reductions required to meet the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget in 2035. Accounting for these policies, the UK’s emissions would essentially flatline, falling only 4% by 2030. Even if policies with some delivery risks were implemented and succeed at reducing emissions, the UK’s emissions would still be 340 MtCO2e in 2030, only 17% below 2022 levels. This leaves a huge gap of 87-140 MtCO2e between the UK’s current policy projections and its 2030 NDC target.
The U-turns made in September 2023 mean that now less than 20% of the emissions reductions required are covered by credible policy. As such, future UK emissions will be even higher. While an exact quantification is not possible now, this pushes the UK even further off-track to meet its climate targets than it already was. It is incredible that any government would look at escalating climate impacts around the world, the falling cost of low-carbon technologies and the emerging race towards a green economy, and decide that it’s the correct time to deteriorate, not increase, climate action.
Key areas for improvement include:
- Reversing the U-turns announced in September 2023 around the phase-out of new petrol and diesel vehicles, the phase-out of gas boilers in homes, and the requirements for landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties.
- Sectoral strategies: A lack of overarching sectoral strategies to drive decarbonisation in the electricity, agriculture and land-use sectors, despite repeated calls for their development.
- Energy efficiency improvements. The number of households installing energy efficiency improvements fell from 2021 to 2022 in the UK, with insufficient and inconsistent funding a key barrier to action.
- Industrial electrification. Funding mechanisms to drive electrification of industry do not exist (as they do for hydrogen and CCS deployment).
- Behavioural and societal change. The government is unwilling to support and accelerate demand reduction strategies, despite evidence of public willingness to engage. Instead, the government is banking on technological innovation to deliver emission reductions in surface transport, aviation and agriculture.
- Fossil fuel supply. The government is approving new fossil fuel projects, including oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and a new coal mine in Cumbria. Developing new fossil fuel projects is incompatible with the 1.5°C temperature limit and is damaging the UK’s international reputation.
The full analysis of the UK’s policies and action is here.
We rate the UK’s 2030 domestic emissions reduction target of at least 68% below 1990 levels as being ‘Almost Sufficient’ to limit warming to 1.5°C, when compared to modelled domestic pathways. The “Almost sufficient” rating indicates that the UK’s target in 2030 is not yet consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C but could be, with moderate improvements. If all countries were to follow the UK’s approach, warming could be held below—but not well below—2°C.
We had previously rated this target as 1.5°C compatible, however in updating our modelled domestic pathways to reflect the latest science the level of reductions needed within the UK have become more stringent in order to meet a 1.5°C limit. Thus, while the target itself is unchanged compared to our 2022 assessment, it is no longer rated as 1.5°C compatible.
The CAT’s assessment of the UK’s total fair share contribution takes into account its emissions reduction target and its climate finance.
We rate the UK’s 2030 domestic emissions reduction target of at least 68% (incl. LULUCF) below 1990 levels as “Insufficient” when compared to its fair-share emissions allocation. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the UK’s fair-share target in 2030 needs substantial improvement to be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. These improvements need to come in the form of additional financial support for emissions reductions in developing countries, as well as greater ambition in reducing UK emissions. If all countries followed the UK’s current approach, warming would reach up to 3°C.
The UK’s international public climate finance contributions are rated “Highly Insufficient.” The UK remains committed to climate finance in the post-2020 period, but contributions to date have been far below its fair share. To improve its rating, the UK needs to accelerate commitments to increase climate finance. The UK’s climate finance is not sufficient to improve the fair share rating, and the CAT rates the UK’s overall fair share contribution as “Insufficient”.
In 2019, the UK enshrined its goal of net zero emissions by 2050 into law. In 2021, the UK submitted its Net Zero Strategy to the UNFCCC as a long-term strategy. The net zero target covers most elements, and most could be considered good practice, but some elements still remain undefined or lacking. In particular, a clear delineation of targets for emissions reductions and removals would improve the UK’s net zero rating. We evaluate the net zero target as: “Acceptable”.
For the full analysis click here.