United Kingdom

Critically Insufficient4°C+
World
NDCs with this rating fall well outside of a country’s “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 NDCs were in this range, warming would exceed 4°C. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with warming of greater than 4°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
Highly insufficient< 4°C
World
NDCs with this rating fall outside of a country’s “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 NDCs were in this range, warming would reach between 3°C and 4°C. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with warming between 3°C and 4°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
Insufficient< 3°C
World
NDCs with this rating are in the least stringent part of a country’s “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 NDCs were in this range, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with warming over 2°C and up to 3°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
2°C Compatible< 2°C
World
NDCs with this rating are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2°C goal and therefore fall within a country’s “fair share” range, but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement long term temperature goal. If all government NDCs 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. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with holding warming below, but not well below, 2°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible< 1.5°C
World
This rating indicates that a government’s NDCs in the most stringent part of its “fair share” range: it is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
Role model<< 1.5°C
World
This rating indicates that a government’s NDC is more ambitious than what is considered a “fair” contribution: it is more than consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. No “role model” rating has been developed for the sectors.

Summary table

Paris Agreement targets

NDC update: In December 2020, the UK announced an updated NDC. Our analysis of its new target is here.


While still in the Brexit transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020, the UK is obliged to contribute to the EU-wide NDC agreed to under the Paris Agreement of at least 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 (EU 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, 2019f). Given its departure from the EU, the UK government is obliged to formulate and submit their own NDC, which the government has indicated will be ‘well ahead’ of its scheduled hosting of the next UNFCCC climate negotiations in November 2021.

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. Five initial ‘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 respective 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 MtCO2e1
  • 2023-2027: 1,950 MtCO2e
  • 2028-2032: 1,725 MtCO2e

The CCC was originally scheduled to issue its recommendations for the sixth carbon budget (2033-2037) in September 2020, but this has now been pushed back until December 2020. This is possible given the postponement of COP26 to November 2021, and allows the CCC to incorporate the impact of the coronavirus on its assessment of the UK’s progress in reducing emissions, while remaining within the statutory timetable.

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

In addition to these UK national targets, the Scottish government has legislated a net-zero emissions target for 2045, as well as the following interim targets:

  • 2020: 56% below 1990 levels
  • 2030: 75% below 1990 levels
  • 2040: 90% below 1990 levels (Scottish Parliament, 2019)

1 | 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, 2019c). As part of this net zero 2050 target, the CCC recommended that Scotland achieve net zero by 2045, which was subsequently adopted by the Scottish government in 2019. The CCC also recommended that Wales achieve a 95% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. These targets reflect the individual respective circumstances of the devolved governments.

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, 2018b). 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’ however, this had still not been submitted as of late August 2020.

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 yet to make the necessary changes in the Climate Change Act to enshrine such a commitment (UK Government, 2019a).

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