As host to the upcoming COP26 climate talks, the United Kingdom (UK) has stepped up its climate commitments over the last six months to set ambitious 2030 and 2035 targets. If achieved, these targets would place the UK on a 1.5°C compatible domestic emissions reduction trajectory and put it on track to achieve its 2050 net zero target. However, there remains a large gap between The United Kingdom's ambitions and its present level of action - in other words the UK's action needs to be significantly ramped up.
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, but these pledges now need to be accompanied by a suitably strong suite of policies targeting all sectors of the UK economy. The government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is a good first step, but remains insufficient in scope to achieve the newly-set 2030 and 2035 targets.
Under current policies, however, the UK is projected to reach only 54-56% below 1990 levels (excl. LULUCF), far from on track to achieve its recently updated NDC and underscoring the scale of new policies needed.
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 a 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). A clear and sustained increase in international climate mitigation finance contributions is fundamental in the post-2020 period.
The UK’s long-awaited Energy White Paper was released late in 2020, outlining an expected average emissions reduction of 19 MtCO2e per year between 2021 and 2032, which is 27% more than those outlined in the government’s Ten Point Plan. These further emissions reductions are claimed to come from ‘additional measures’ in the Energy White Paper, despite only limited additional measures being outlined. However, in 2030, this would still leave the UK far short of achieving its recently updated target of at least a 68% reduction below 1990 levels, implying significant additional measures will be required.
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 June 2021, only 17% 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.
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, and demonstrating its strong climate leadership credentials ahead of its role as COP26 host later this year. So far, however, the suite of policies announced in pursuit of meeting its ambitious targets are calculated by the CAT to fall 94-109 MtCO2e short of achieving the steep emissions reductions 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.
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.
A number of policy announcements have been made over the last 12 months, targeting the power, transport, and industry sectors, and are projected to result in significant emission reductions. However, these do not go far enough toward achieving the UK’s 1.5°C compatible 2030 domestic target, and also means the UK is not currently on track to achieve its 2050 net zero target.
We assess the implemented and announced policies 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 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.
Key strategies that will outline emission reduction measures in the buildings sector, as well as from the scaling-up of green hydrogen use, have been promised, but not yet delivered (as of early August 2021).
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 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.
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.
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”.
The UK has enshrined its 2050 net zero target in law by way of revising and amending the Climate Change Act 2008 in 2019. As this revision was done after the UK’s Long-Term Strategy (LTS) was submitted in 2018, the net zero target does not feature in the LTS. The net zero target generally covers key elements but fails to meet good practice standards for some of them.
We evaluate the net zero target as: “Average.” If the government were to legislate its commitments to include international aviation and shipping emissions and not to utilise international emission credits, the UK’s net zero target rating would improve to “Acceptable”. The full CAT assessment of the target is here.