UK hits emissions milestone but faces critical decision on future targets


The UK government has been commended for meeting the latest carbon emissions target set under the country’s Climate Change Act. However, experts warn that this success should not lead to a relaxation of future emissions goals.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent body advising the government, has praised the achievement of the Third Carbon Budget’s targets, which covered the period from 2018 to 2022. Notably, the targets were met with a surplus, largely due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic—a factor that cannot be relied upon for future reductions.

The Committee’s letter to Minister Graham Stuart underlines the importance of maintaining an ambitious path toward the 2030 emissions reduction commitment and warns against using the ‘surplus’ as an excuse to weaken forthcoming carbon budgets. These budgets are a crucial framework within the Climate Change Act, setting legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions over five-year periods.

Professor Piers Forster, Interim Chair of the CCC, commended the government’s efforts but emphasised the challenges ahead. “The UK is already substantially off track for the 2030 target. The government must resist the urge to ease up on the drive toward decarbonisation,” he stated.

The government must resist the urge to ease up on the drive toward decarbonisation

The UK’s decarbonisation efforts to date have been most successful in the electricity supply sector, with a rapid phase-out of coal contributing significantly to the reduction in emissions. Industrial emissions also decreased due to a downturn in output. However, these successes were bolstered by external factors, such as EU decisions on the Emissions Trading System (ETS) cap and the unforeseen impact of COVID-19.

Looking ahead, achieving future carbon budgets will require a substantial increase in the pace of decarbonisation across various sectors, including transport and buildings, where the UK is not currently on track. The ambitious goals for the future are framed against an increased commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050, a revision from the earlier goal of an 80% reduction.

The CCC’s advice remains steadfast: surplus emissions from the first three carbon budget periods should not be carried forward. The aim, they insist, should be to meet—or ideally exceed—future carbon budgets through robust actions to cut emissions, not through accounting strategies that could undermine the UK’s climate commitments.

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