United Kingdom

Critically Insufficient4°C+
World
Commitments with this rating fall well outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would exceed 4°C.
Highly insufficient< 4°C
World
Commitments with this rating fall outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach between 3°C and 4°C.
Insufficient< 3°C
World
Commitments with this rating are in the least stringent part of their fair share range and not consistent with holding warming below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.
2°C Compatible< 2°C
World
Commitments with this rating are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2°C goal and therefore fall within the country’s fair share range, but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement. If all government targets were in this range, warming could be held below, but not well below, 2°C and still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit.
1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible< 1.5°C
World
This rating indicates that a government’s efforts are in the most stringent part of its fair share range: it is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
Role model<< 1.5°C
World
This rating indicates that a government’s efforts are more ambitious than what is considered a fair contribution: it is more than consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.

Summary table

Paris Agreement targets

As a member of the EU, the UK is obliged to contribute to the EU-wide NDC agreed to under the Paris Agreement of a 40% reduction in GHG below 1990 levels by 2030. Under the EU’s Effort Sharing Regulation, UK sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) are required to reduce GHG emissions by 37% below 2005 levels by 2030. This includes the transport and agriculture sectors, which made up 38% of the UK’s overall emissions in 2017 (UK Government, 2019a).

National targets

Following the adoption of the UK’s landmark Climate Change Act legislation in 2008, an independent statutory advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was created to, among other things, inform the setting of national emission reduction targets. An initial five ‘carbon budgets’ were established in line with the CCC’s advice covering the period between 2008 – 2032 (Committee on Climate Change, 2019a).

Compliance with a carbon budget is assessed on the basis of the UK’s net emissions (i.e. all sources of emissions minus any removals of the GHG emissions from the atmosphere by land use, land-use change or forestry activities).

The Climate Change Act allows for a limited use of carbon market units for each budget period. For the current third carbon budget (2018-2022), the limit on the use of carbon units is for the equivalent of 55 MtCO2e (UK Government, 2016).

The UK carbon budgets are as follows:

  • 2008-2012: 3,018 MtCO2e
  • 2013-2017: 2,728 MtCO2e
  • 2018-2022: 2,632 MtCO2e*
  • 2023-2027: 1,950 MtCO2e
  • 2028-2032: 1,725 MtCO2e

The UK’s advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, will issue its recommendations for the sixth carbon budget (2033-2037) in September 2020. This is three months prior to when it is required to do under the Climate Change Act and is to ensure that it precedes the COP26 in Glasgow in December 2020 (Committee on Climate Change, 2019b).

In line with these carbon budgets, specific GHG emission reduction targets are referenced by the CCC for 2020, 2025, and 2030. These are:

  • 2020: 37% below 1990 levels
  • 2025: 51% below 1990 levels
  • 2030: 57% below 1990 levels

*The government has stated that it is carrying forward 88Mt from its second carbon budget as a contingency plan in case technical changes to the baseline used to measure the UK’s emissions should raise historical emissions; although it has stated that it does not intend to use them (Skidmore, 2019). However, as this 88Mt is available for use, we have included it in our calculations.

Long-term goal

The UK adopted a 2050 net zero emissions reduction target in June 2019, strengthening its previous 2050 goal of at least an 80% GHG emission reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 (UK Government, 2019b). As part of this net zero 2050 target, the CCC recommended that Scotland achieve net zero by 2045, and that Wales achieve a 95% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, reflecting their individual respective circumstances.

Under the Paris Agreement, governments should submit long-term low GHG emissions development strategies by 2020. The UK submitted its Clean Growth Strategy to the UNFCCC in 2018 (UK Government, 2018a). With the adoption of its 2050 net-zero target, a revised version of its long-term strategy detailing how it will achieve net-zero should be submitted.

The government has indicated its intention to follow the recommendations of its advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, and include emissions from international aviation and shipping and not make use of international carbon credits. However, they have not ruled out the possibility of using such international credits and have yet to make the necessary changes in the Climate Change Act to enshrine such a commitment (UK Government, 2019c).

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