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Decarbonisation acceleration plan tabled by UK government

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce significantly more ambitious cuts to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The government has been warned that the targets must be met by urgent action.

The government is understood to be readying itself to commit publicly to a 78 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035 (compared with 1990 levels), aligned with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee, its independent climate advisors.

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said that the government would be making an announcement shortly. The latest announcement is expected to be made ahead of a major summit this week in which US President Joe Biden is also expected to announce greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, thought to be in the region of 40 to 50 per cent by 2030.

In its report, the Climate Change Committee said that its recommended target would effectively accelerate the UK’s previous commitment to reach 80 per cent reductions by 2050 by 15 years. This new target – which for the first time is expected to include aviation and shipping emissions – is a significant step forward from its current emission to cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030. It would put the UK on track to meet its goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Meeting the target will require an expansion in electric vehicles, offshore wind, planting of new woodland and a reduction in meat and dairy consumption, the committee’s report said.

The ambition of the existing and proposed targets has been welcomed, although experts and environmental groups have urged the government to match its ambition with urgent action. While the government has announced many projects to develop, trial, and deploy green technologies – from hydrogen for heating to carbon capture and sequestration – it has been criticised by these groups for failing to accompany these with bold and potentially difficult decisions to cut emissions. For instance, the government remains committed to a £27bn road building scheme and airport expansions, including a third runway at Heathrow, and recently axed the Green Homes Grant (which contributes towards the cost of insulating homes for improved energy efficiency) after just six months.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, commented: “This major shift in gear from the government makes destructive projects like new road building and airport expansion even harder to justify. Targets are much easier to set than they are to meet, so the hard work begins now. In order to actually deliver on this commitment, new measures to slash emissions from homes and transport should already be well under way. So unless the government’s policies urgently fall in line with its ambitions, there could still be awkward questions for Boris Johnson at the global climate talks in the autumn.”

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband criticised the government for consistently failing to match the great ambition of its promises with corresponding action: “While any strengthening of our targets is the right thing to do, the government can’t be trusted to match rhetoric with reality. We need a government that treats the climate emergency as the emergency it is. 

“This year, as hosts of COP26, the UK has a particular responsibility to lead the world and show the way forward for a greener future. This government isn’t up to the task.”

The UK government has been making an effort to show leadership in climate mitigation ahead of the UN’s COP26 summit due to be hosted in Glasgow in November. Earlier this week, the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee warned that the conference must secure significant responses from attending countries if the world is to have a chance of limiting the average rise in global temperatures to below 2°C.

The International Energy Agency warned this week that carbon emissions are forecast to have their second largest rise in history this year, as coronavirus recovery efforts – particularly in the US and across Asia – give a boost to the fossil fuel industry.

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