United Kingdom

Overall rating
Almost Sufficient
Policies & action
Almost Sufficient
< 2°C World
Domestic target
1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible
< 1.5°C World
Fair share target
Insufficient
< 3°C World
Climate finance
Highly insufficient
Net zero target

year

2050

Comprehensiveness rated as

Acceptable
Land use & forestry
Not significant

Overview

In the lead up to its role as host of the COP26 climate talks, the United Kingdom (UK) has released several strategies and climate policies including its long-awaited Net Zero Strategy. These latest announcements aim to illustrate how the UK government plans to achieve its ambitious medium term emissions reduction targets and its 2050 net zero target. However, it remains uncertain whether the measures announced to date will result in the steep emission reductions necessary to achieve these targets. It is doubtful whether funding for key measures, particularly for heat pumps and encouraging modal shift, will be sufficiently transformational to align the UK’s future emissions with a 1.5°C trajectory.

A summary of some of the most ambitious measures announced, those that leave doubts as to their alignment with the UK’s ambitious climate targets, and those that are counterproductive to achieving the government’s targets are shown below.

Ambitious:

  • Decarbonised power system by 2035
  • 2030 ban on fossil fuel car sales, 2040 for heavy duty vehicle sales
  • Construction of 40 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030
  • Removal of all diesel-only trains from rail network by 2040

Uncertain:

  • Scale of funding for decarbonising buildings including incentives for heat pump adoption
  • Commitment to produce hydrogen using natural gas and CCS
  • Scale of funding to achieve modal shift away from personal vehicle travel
  • Commitment to funding new nuclear power capacity

Counter-productive:

  • Approval of continued oil and gas exploration in North Sea

The adoption of emissions reduction targets of at least 68% (by 2030) and 78% (by 2035) below 1990 levels as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change is to be commended. The CAT’s most recent UK update showing emissions projections under current policies as announced and quantified in September 2021 show that the UK is projected to reach only 54-56% below 1990 levels (excl. LULUCF). Updated detailed emissions projections from the UK government accounting for recently announced policies will be included once they are released.

On finance, reported contributions fall short of the UK’s fair share contribution to the USD 100bn goal and have decreased in the past five years. While the UK has doubled its commitment post 2020, to GBP 11.6bn across 2021-2026, in July 2021 it was revealed that this would not be new funding, and instead would be taken from the existing aid budget, breaking an UN-brokered agreement that such funding would be ‘new and additional’. This follows an earlier 2021 announcement of a cut in the UK’s total aid budget (Wintour, 2021). Without a steep increase in contributions from the UK, it will not be possible for the UK to improve its overall CAT rating to 1.5°C compatible.

The UK’s long-awaited Net Zero Strategy was released in October 2021 and outlines emissions reductions to 2030 and 2050 that suggest the government’s targets will be met. Swiftly releasing detailed projections of how these emissions reductions to 2030 will be achieved, and formally adopting them in legislation where possible, will help to alleviate the concerns that remain over their sufficiency to achieve the government’s 2030 target.

After its exit from the EU, the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS) commenced on 1 January 2021. The design and coverage of the scheme is almost identical to the EU ETS that preceded it, but the two schemes have not been linked. The EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement commits both parties to consider such a linkage.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has had a severe impact on the UK economy, and the government’s commitment to “build back greener” has so far seen only a relatively small fraction of its recovery funds allocated towards green efforts. As of October 2021, only 20% of the economic recovery funds had been allocated towards low-carbon green measures, compared to 30% of the EU’s latest 2021-2027 budget and associated recovery package, and behind the other large European economies such as Germany and France. In absolute terms, however, the UK has spent more than either country.

Significant expenditure towards expanding existing public transport networks, green energy and buildings upgrades have been announced; however, a large chunk of the funding for buildings has already been cut, with the GBP 1.5bn green homes grant being cancelled in early 2021.

Overall rating
Almost Sufficient

The CAT rates the UK’s overall contribution to climate change mitigation as “Almost sufficient”. The “Almost sufficient” rating reflects the fact that some elements of the UK’s efforts are world-leading, like its domestic emissions reduction targets, while others, like its contributions to global climate finance, remain inadequate, and that it needs to ramp up its domestic action to meet its ambition for 2030.

The UK’s recently updated 2030 emissions target is one of the only domestic 1.5°C compatible targets in the world when rated by the Climate Action Tracker against global least cost modelled domestic pathways, cementing the UK’s position as a global climate front-runner in this regard, and demonstrating its strong climate leadership credentials ahead of its upcoming role as COP26 host. So far, however, the suite of policies announced and quantified in pursuit of meeting its ambitious targets are calculated by the CAT to fall 94-109 MtCO2e short of achieving the steep emissions reductions to 2030 needed.

Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change stated in June 2021 that progress on setting out policies was significantly behind that of ambition, and that the remaining policy gaps must be addressed if the UK were to meet its ambitious climate targets. It went on to outline that only one-fifth of the emissions savings for the Sixth Carbon Budget have policies that are potentially ‘on track’ for full delivery, implying that greater urgency is needed across all sectors of the economy. Additionally, to ensure the UK is contributing its fair-share to global mitigation efforts, much higher levels of support are needed towards developing countries to help them achieve rapid emission reductions.

Key measures required for the UK to improve its overall rating to ‘1.5°C compatible’:

  • Steep increase in contributions to international climate finance to ensure the UK is contributing its fair share to global climate mitigation efforts;
  • Clearly quantified policies that will result in the necessary scale of emissions reductions across all sectors to achieve the UK’s 2030 target.
Policies & action
Almost Sufficient

We rate the UK’s current policies until 2030 as ”Almost sufficient”. The “Almost sufficient” rating indicates that the UK’s climate policies and action in 2030 are not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit 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. If, however, the UK remains on its currently projected emissions trajectory, by 2035, it would instead be in line with warming of 3°C.

The UK government has announced several policies and plans over the last 12 months, targeting all sectors of the economy, including the long-awaited Net Zero Strategy in October 2021. The newly announced measures are expected to result in significant emission reductions. However, with the specific impact of many new measures outlined not yet quantified, uncertainty remains whether they will enable the achievement of the 2030, 2035, and 2050 targets. Updated detailed emissions projections are due to be released later in 2021 and will be included in the next update. The Net Zero Strategy included an updated baseline emissions pathway with slightly lower emissions to the end of 2037 due to changes in growth projections and other projection improvements.

We assess the implemented and announced policies—that have so far been quantified by the UK government —will lead to emissions reductions of between 54-56% below 1990 levels by 2030 excluding LULUCF and considering the impact of COVID-19. This is well below its 2030 NDC of at least a 68% reduction below 1990 levels.

Considerable progress has been made in decarbonising the UK’s power sector, with 43% of electricity generated in 2020 coming from renewable sources, while coal fell to just 1.7% of total generation. In mid-2021, the government confirmed it will bring the phase-out of coal from the power sector forward one year from 2025 to 2024. Strong recent increases in offshore wind capacity are set to accelerate, with a recent commitment to reach 40 GW in total installed capacity by 2030. Onshore wind and solar PV will be permitted to compete in renewables auctions in 2021, the first time in six years.

The government has set an ambitious ban on new sales of fossil fuel-only cars from 2030 onward, and proposed a ban on fossil fuel heavy duty vehicles from 2040, making the UK a global front-runner in this regard, if they are implemented. However, a recent GBP 27.4 bn commitment to expand the UK’s Road network is likely to increase transport emissions, despite this sector already emitting more than any other.

The government’s hydrogen and buildings strategies were released in the second half of 2021, but have been met with concerns over the adequacy of key measures in each. A strong reliance on hydrogen produced using natural gas and carbon capture and storage and a limited increase in funding for replacing fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps are two such commitments.

The full analysis of the UK’s policies and action is here.

Domestic target
1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible

We rate the UK’s 2030 domestic emissions reduction target of at least 68% below 1990 levels as being compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C long-term temperature limit when compared with modelled domestic emissions pathways. The UK’s domestic target does not require other countries to make comparably deeper reductions.

The CAT’s assessment of the UK’s total fair share contribution takes into account its emissions reduction target and its climate finance.

Fair share target
Insufficient

We rate the UK’s 2030 domestic emissions reduction target of at least 68% 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 the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. Given that its domestic target is Paris compatible, these improvements need to, at least partially, come in the form of additional financial support for emissions reductions achieved in developing countries. If all countries followed the UK’s approach, warming would reach up to 3°C.

Climate finance
Highly insufficient

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 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 target rating, and the CAT rates the UK’s overall fair share contribution as “Insufficient”.

Net zero target
Acceptable

The UK has enshrined the net zero target by 2050 in law by way of revising and amending the Climate Change Act 2008 in 2019. As this revision was done after the UK’s LTS was submitted, the net zero target does not feature in the LTS. 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 commitment not to use reductions or removals outside of the UK and a delineation of targets for emissions reductions and removals would improve the UK’s net zero rating. We evaluate the net zero target as: “Acceptable”.

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