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Green Revolution: UK Aims to Lead in Reduction of CO2 Emissions

Georgie Chantrell-Plant explores whether the UK government’s recent plans to tackle climate change are enough to make an effective difference

Photo by Beth Jnr

It is being heralded as one of the most ambitious targets in the world for the challenge of tackling climate change. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a goal for the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68%-69% less than they were in 1990 by 2030, inciting a faster pace of decarbonisation for industries & transport, as well as at the domestic level.

This could mean a faster switch from gas boilers in our homes and an accelerated ‘phasing out’ of gas-guzzlers in favour for more environmentally-friendly vehicles.

These goals are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which were at the heart of the Paris Agreement signed back in 2016. They aim to cut emissions worldwide to keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius. The NDCS represent the commitments made by each country to reduce their own national emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Nationally Determined Contributions

The UK has assumed the presidency of the 26th Conference Of The Parties (COP) meeting in partnership with Italy, which is planned to take place at the end of next year. Further afield, President Elect Joseph Biden has made his intentions clear for the US to rejoin the Paris agreement in 2021 when he takes up office, after the USA's official withdrawal on the 4th November 2020.

Johnson hopes that the goal set out by the UK will act as an example for other countries; the 68% cut is deemed by the EU to be a ‘fair share’ by Britain in the further tackling of climate change.

"We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process – uniting businesses, academics, NGOs and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change […] the UK is urging world leaders to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net-zero targets." – Boris Johnson

This ‘world-leading’ 68% cut predicts favourable reactions and headlines for Johnson, particularly by environmentalists. However, some believe that this goal isn’t enough and are calling for the number to be higher given the undeniable impact that climate change has already taken. Various Green Groups have called for a cut of 75%; and research made by the Consultancy Cambridge Econometrics, which was commissioned by the Prince of Wales corporate leaders group, stated that a target of 70% is necessary to achieve by 2030. Tim Crosland of Extinction Rebellion said that 100% of emissions need to be cut by 2025 if the world is to avoid going over the 1.5 degree Celsius rise, which was the threshold agreed upon by the UN. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said it would not comment until official figures have been seen.

The UK’s 10 Point Plan

Johnson also laid out a 10 Point Plan for the UK to address the environmental issues, though this has also been criticised for being inadequately funded and not going far enough to respond to the root of the problem – and what does this number of 68% even mean?

How can these targets reflect actual emission cuts? The true value of Boris Johnson's targets will not be made clear until details on background assumptions are officially revealed. Could the UK essentially use international credits to achieve this goal? Would paying other nations to cut their own emissions for the benefit of the UK be how it is achieved?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has stated that credits would only be allowed if the target is more ambitious than the 68% set out by the UK:

"This trajectory for UK emissions is eminently achievable, provided effective policies are introduced across the economy without delay. These would bring significant benefits for the UK's economic recovery." – report from The Climate Change Committee

The CCC also claim that the NDCs which have presented should be accompanied by other climate commitments in order for any target to be reached: clear commitments to reduce international aviation and shipping emissions, for example, must also be made. Alongside this, there needs to be clear support for climate finance, particularly within developing countries.

A recently published report by the Green Alliance states that there is a ‘significant gap’ between Johnson's world-leading plans. The current government plans add up to less than a quarter of the emissions cuts needed to achieve its 2030 climate goal. The report additionally estimates that £22.7bn of additional spending will be needed to tackle the climate and nature challenge. This annual sum includes:

  • £9bn on accelerating the transition to electric vehicles, and on walking, cycling, bus and rail infrastructure

  • £2.3bn on making buildings efficient and kickstarting the roll-out of electric heat pumps

  • £400m on establishing a resource efficiency programme for industry

  • £6.6bn on nature restoration and the food and farming sector

"[...] policy and spending has fallen short of what's needed to achieve these aims [...] there is an immediate spending shortfall in meeting the UK's climate and nature goals to the end of this parliament in 2024." – report from Green Alliance

The intended date of 2030 is important because CO2 concentrations within the atmosphere are cumulative. If the UK doesn’t dramatically reduce emissions by that date, there is no chance of being able to reach the long-term goal of net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

You may also like: The Future of Sustainable Farming in Post-Brexit Britain

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