Isn't England lovely?

Outgoing PM May commits UK to ending its climate change contribution by 2050

Image credit: Acceleratorhams |

In one of her final acts as UK Prime Minister, Theresa May has announced that the UK is committed to eradicating its net contribution to climate change by 2050, an ambition held accountable by legally binding legislation.

The new legislation requires the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, improving public health, air quality and biodiversity. The declaration puts the UK on a path to become the first major economy to set net-zero emissions target in law. The Government is also inviting the young generation to advise on future environment and climate change policy through a Youth Steering Group.

A report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), commissioned by the Government in October 2018, forecast significant benefits to public health and savings to the NHS from better air quality and less noise pollution, as well as improved biodiversity.

The statutory instrument to implement the new net-zero goal will be laid in Parliament on Wednesday 12 June. This will amend the existing Climate Change Act 2008, which set an original target of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. Since that time, giant strides have been made in improving the technology of sustainable solutions, allied to falling costs across the whole economy. The conclusions of the CCC are that net-zero emissions can now be achieved within the original estimates set out in the 2008 Act.

The legislation will mean that the UK is on track to become the first G7 country to legislate for net-zero emissions, with other major economies expected to follow suit. The UK will conduct a further assessment within five years to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action, firstly, to encourage a multiplying effect of the UK’s lead with the engagement of other G7 nations and secondly, to ensure that UK industries are not being unfairly handicapped against their overseas competitors.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change. We have made huge progress in growing our economy and the jobs market while slashing emissions.

“Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.

“Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”

Pursuant to this end, Theresa May will be meeting young science and engineering students to discuss the new net-zero climate change target and hear opinions and ideas from the next generation. For the first time, young people will have the chance to shape the UK’s future climate policy through the Youth Steering Group. This Group, set up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and led by the British Youth Council, will advise Government on priorities for environmental action and give a view on progress to date against existing commitments on climate, waste and recycling, and biodiversity loss. They will start their review in July.

Greg Clark, secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “We want to continue our global leadership and that’s why we are introducing a legally binding net-zero target to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050. The report we commissioned from the Committee on Climate Change makes clear that we have laid the foundations to achieve a net-zero emissions economy and that it is necessary and feasible.

“Almost 400,000 people are already employed in the low-carbon sector and its supply chains across the country.  Through our modern Industrial Strategy we’re investing in clean growth to ensure we reap the rewards and create two million high quality jobs by 2030.”

Welcoming the announcement, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn DBE, CBI Director-General, commented: “UK business stands squarely behind the Government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This legislation is the right response to the global climate crisis and firms are ready to play their part in combating it.

“Climate leadership can drive UK competitiveness and secure long-term prosperity. This legislation must be followed by a commitment to long-term policies that support decarbonisation across the economy. Some sectors will need clear pathways to enable investment in low-carbon technologies, and it is vital that there is cross-government coordination on the policies and regulation needed to deliver a clean future.”

Chris Skidmore, minister for energy and clean growth, added: “We’ve been able to build and maintain a world-leading record on tackling climate change thanks to our reputation for pioneering science and innovation. We’ve made the case for urgent action at home and abroad, but that has not happened overnight.

“I’m extremely proud of the crucial role the best and brightest scientists in the UK have played in contributing to the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence of the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“As the way we live our lives changes over the next 30 years, our scientists will remain at the cutting edge of research, ensuring we end our contribution to global warming entirely by 2050.”  

The UK intends to achieve its net-zero emissions economy through the use of international carbon credits. The Government believes that using international credits within an appropriate monitoring, reporting and verification framework allows the UK to maximise the value of each pound spent on climate change mitigation. To underscore the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change, the country has bid to host COP26, the next gathering of international representatives for the UN’s climate change conference, to be held some time during 2020.

The Government’s announcement comes after months of intense public pressure over the most pressing environmental issues, compounded by the actions of many local councils declaring a climate emergency. In May 2019, Glasgow became the first city in the UK to pledge to become a zero-carbon region by 2045. The Danish capital city of Copenhagen had previously announced, in May 2018, its intention to become carbon neutral by 2025 - years earlier than any other European city.  

Myriad issues must be overcome to successfully tackle climate change and create a net-zero economy across the UK. For instance, a former Conservative environment minister recently claimed that the UK needs to stop building “crap houses” as part of a plan to eliminate carbon emissions in the UK, while oil and gas extraction plans from existing fields are expected to cause the UK to miss its climate change goals and the issue of the millions of polluting petrol and diesel cars and lorries still on the UK’s roads is a persistent headache in swiftly achieving cuts in carbon emissions.

The UK is not the first country to pledge to become carbon neutral, nor is it the most ambitious. In May 2018, Costa Rica - already ranked as the greenest country by the New Economics Foundation, deriving 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources - announced its drive to completely abolish fossil fuels in the Central American nation, with new President Carlos Alvarado declaring that Costa Rica "must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first".

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles