The UK’s climate action is not consistent with the Paris Agreement. While the UK’s NDC and long-term targets are broadly aligned with cost-effective domestic pathways, they do not represent a fair share of the global effort to address climate change. The UK’s current approach is therefore incompatible with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities which are central to the Paris Agreement.
In addition, while the UK government has adopted many new policies in the past two years, critical policy gaps remain in a range of areas such as energy efficiency in buildings, heat pump uptake and agricultural decarbonisation. Without increasing the ambition of the UK’s domestic climate targets, implementing policy to achieve these goals, and providing sufficient climate finance to support emissions reductions in less wealthy countries, the UK cannot be seen as compliant with the Paris Agreement. At the moment, under 40% of the emissions reductions required to meet the UK’s NDC are supported by policies with proven delivery mechanisms and sufficient funding.
In 2019, the UK committed to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Since then, it has increased the ambition of its 2030 NDC to align with this long-term target, aiming to reduce emissions to 68% below 1990 levels by 2030. In September 2022, the UK revisited its 2030 NDC, but did not strengthen the overall ambition of its target. This is contrary to what was requested at COP26 in Glasgow under the UK presidency.
The UK has also introduced a range of sectoral and cross-cutting policies to reduce emissions. In 2021, the UK released its Net Zero Strategy, which brings together these sectoral plans and makes a range of additional commitments.
In some areas, the UK has ambitious targets, supported by clear and credible policies. This includes:
- Committing to a fully decarbonised power sector by 2035. This is supported by comprehensive policy to drive renewables deployment, including a target of 50GW offshore wind capacity by 2030.
- A 2030 ban on fossil fuelled car sales, supported by a zero-emissions vehicle mandate to drive EV sales in the 2020s. EV sales in 2021 were ahead of the Government’s own net-zero consistent trajectory.
At the same time, there are some key weaknesses in the UK’s climate policy approach. This is particularly relevant on the demand side, where policy to drive efficiency improvements and encourage shifts in consumption are lacking. Key policy gaps include:
- Energy efficiency in homes, where there is insufficient funding and policies to drive action outside of social housing and public buildings. Efficiency improvements are the fastest way to address the current energy crisis, not least because UK consumers are facing huge energy bills.
- Policy to reduce demand for the most polluting goods, such as aviation and red meat. Current strategies explicitly downplay the potential for behavioural and societal change.
- Fossil fuel supply, where the Government is still approving new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. Developing new oil and gas reserves is incompatible with the 1.5°C temperature limit and will not help address the current energy crisis.
- Heat pump uptake, where the Government is relying on a market-based approach to drive heat pump deployment. It remains to be seen whether this scheme will be sufficient to achieve the deployment rates necessary.
The UK’s response to the energy crisis has also been lacking in ambition. The windfall tax implemented by the UK to capture excessive profits from fossil fuel companies included a 90% tax relief for companies investing in new oil and gas extraction in the UK. This risks accelerating both fossil fuel profits and global warming. The UK has also lifted the ban on fracking for fossil gas. The latest government has proposed freezing energy bills at an average of GBP 2,500 per year, funded by borrowing. While this will provide short-term relief to consumers, it does not provide a targeted incentive or support for efficiency improvements, which is what is urgently needed.
Until these policy gaps are addressed, the UK will remain off-track to meet its climate targets. We estimate that the UK’s current policy will lead to emissions in 2030 of 58–63% below 1990 levels. Further action is therefore essential.
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 emissions reductions, it will need to support more ambitious emissions reductions.
Key to this is providing appropriate levels of climate finance to support emissions reductions in less wealthy countries. The UK’s climate finance contributions have fallen short of its 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, this is not new funding but is taken from the existing aid budget. This breaks an UN-brokered agreement that such funding would be ‘new and additional’. Without a steep increase in UK climate finance contributions, it will not be possible for the UK to improve its overall CAT rating to 1.5°C compatible.
The CAT rates the UK’s climate targets, policies and finance “Almost sufficient”. The “Almost sufficient” rating reflects the fact that some elements of the UK’s climate policies and commitments are not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit but could be with moderate improvements.
The UK’s 2030 emissions target is one of the few domestic targets which is 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. However, IAM pathways do not consider what would represent a fair emissions reduction pathway for the UK. When considering an equitable allocation of emissions reductions across countries, the UK’s targets are far below what would represent a fair contribution. There is also a significant gap between the UK’s targets and UK policy. Less than 40% of the required emissions reductions are covered by policies which use proven delivery mechanisms and have sufficient funding to support them. Significant delivery risks therefore remain in many areas. Finally, the UK’s provision of climate finance is “Highly insufficient” when compared to the UK’s obligations and capacity to provide such finance.
Key measures required for the UK to improve its overall rating to ‘1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible’ include:
- Substantially increasing international climate finance contributions, to ensure the UK is contributing its fair share to global climate mitigation efforts.
- Introducing additional policies, funding and delivery mechanisms to achieve the UK’s 2030 and 2050 climate targets.
- Increasing the ambition of these targets further where possible.
We rate the UK’s current policies until 2030 as “Almost sufficient”, a rating that indicates the UK’s climate policies and action in 2030 are not yet consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C when compared with modelled domestic pathways, though it could be with moderate improvements. If all countries were to follow the UK’s approach, following a consistent globally cost-effective pathway, warming could be held below—but not well below—2°C.
Since setting a net zero target, the UK government has announced a range of sectoral policies and plans, culminating in the Net Zero Strategy, which was released in October 2021. The strategy and its accompanying sectoral plans represent a shift away from merely setting targets to introducing delivery mechanisms that can achieve these targets. Key commitments include a target of 100% clean electricity by 2035, a ban on petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 and business models to support hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment in industry.
However, key weaknesses remain that need to be addressed, if the UK is to meet its climate targets. Emissions in 2030 will be 293-331 MtCO2e under current policies, a 58–63% reduction below 1990 levels. This is far behind the 2030 NDC which targets at least a 68% reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels.
There is a shortage of credible policy for the UK to achieve its 2030 target. This issue is compounded by the lack of transparency from the government about the expected impact of its policies. The government was recently found to be in breach of the Climate Change Act by the UK High Court, for failing to transparently calculate and communicate the expected impact of its climate policies. An updated Net Zero Strategy is due for publication in early 2023. This lack of transparency makes it difficult to understand how and whether the UK will achieve its climate targets.
The UK’s climate policies are also very reliant on technological progress and innovation, neglecting the substantial potential to reduce emissions via energy efficiency and other demand measures such as dietary change. This represents a critical delivery risk in UK climate policy.
A particularly crucial gap that needs addressing is residential energy efficiency. After the cancellation of the Green Homes Grant, there is very limited policy to drive efficiency improvements in owner occupied homes. This is particularly short-sighted as efficiency improvements are the best and fastest way to protect households from volatile gas prices.
However, the recently released Energy Security Strategy was almost entirely supply-side focused, missing a clear opportunity to tackle fuel poverty, create local jobs and reduce emissions via an ambitious energy efficiency programme.
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 modelled domestic emissions pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C.
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 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 target 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. 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”.
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