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Climate Change: The Targets being missed by the UK

Updated: Apr 4

Alekia Gill delves into the current state of affairs concerning the UK's contribution to climate change.

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Photo by: Matt Palmer


Following the news that the first month of 2024 was the hottest January on record, one begins to question the steps being taken by the government in climate change targets. Are they making progress or is change being made too slowly to meet targets? 



Despite being a consistent leader in the fight against climate change, the UK seems to be falling behind on several policies. In September 2023, the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, made a speech on the Net Zero target set by a growing number of countries—to cut emissions to net zero by 2050.  

 

In this speech, Sunak stated that he planned to relax policies on decarbonising buildings and transport, and that he was 'scrapping’ a number of proposals that he deemed ‘unnecessary’ and ‘heavy-handed’.  

 

These policies included imposing taxes on meat, and on flights in an effort to discourage the public from contributing to unnecessary emissions in their everyday lives. The PM also made steps to slow the transition, from boilers to heat pumps, within homes but maintains that the 2050 Net Zero target is still within reach.


A recent assessment by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), put forward by its advisers to the government, states that not only did they not propose the tax policies—despite advising the public to make more sustainable choices daily— but that the speech decreased the perceived climate ambition of the country and that our role as a leader amongst other COP delegates is slipping  



Rising pressure across the globe 


Reports from the CCC, covering the discussion from the 2023 COP28 summit, state that while the UK is making progress in some areas of climate change, many sectors are progressing far too slowly for our targets to be met. Solar and onshore wind, for example, face obstacles regarding planning, which come as the world’s largest offshore wind developer, Orsted, announces 800 job cuts due to rising costs and supply chain difficulties. 

 

If the government continues to rollback targets for climate change action, the threat of missing the long-term targets becomes even more pervasive. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), dedicated to providing scientific information, regarding climate change across the world, states that the projections outlined in the Paris Agreement are at risk of being breached as soon as February 2034.  

 

The Paris Agreement, signed by 196 parties, indicates that all countries involved must make efforts ‘to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’. When the agreement was signed in 2015, this threshold was projected to be reached by 2045—nineteen years later than current predictions. Reasons for the world hurtling towards these record-breaking temperatures are due to several factors, including increased greenhouse gas emissions and, in certain parts of the world, natural climate phenomena, such as El Niño.  


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Glimmers of hope 


Here in the UK, we cannot ignore that steps are being taken in reducing emissions, and results are being seen. Last year, according to an analysis by Carbon Brief, the amount of electricity generated from fossil fuels fell by 20%, reaching the lowest level since 1957. While this is good news, electricity is ‘just one part of the UK’s overall energy picture’ and ‘three quarters of the UK’s energy mix is gained from oil and gas’, according to David Whitehouse - CEO of Offshore Energies UK 

 

While it has become clear that the UK is making efforts to reduce emissions and decrease climate change, these changes are not happening quickly enough nor often enough to garner the intended results. This is bolstered by the fact that the UK has fallen in esteem as one of the world leaders in climate change action, despite being ahead of the pack in terms of financial measures, sectoral initiatives, and support of sustainable farming across the world. 

 

As part of his September speech, Rishi Sunak outlined how it is unreasonable to expect members of the public to make the costly transition to heat pumps under current time pressures, therefore relaxing targets while maintaining that Net Zero will be reached. 


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An optimistic outlook


According to the CCC, the UK, in comparison to neighbouring countries, ranked 21st out of 21 for per-capita installations of heat pumps in 2022. In the midst of the current cost of living crisis, it is true that making drastic changes to homes will prove impossible for many people but as stated by the CEO of Good Energy, Nigel Pocklington 


 

The key will be to strike a happy medium between reducing costs for the British public as much as possible, while rolling out measures as fast as possible in order to avoid irreversible damage to the planet, which continues to be a looming and ever-present threat.  

 

 

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Researcher: Robyn Donovan | Online Editor: Alison Poole

 

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