UK to set 2035 climate ambition in law

Out-Law News | 21 Apr 2021 | 2:17 pm | 2 min. read

A commitment to reduce UK emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels is to be enshrined in UK law before the end of June this year.

The UK government confirmed that it would set the target in law in response to comments made by the influential Climate Change Committee (CCC) late last year with regards to its sixth carbon budget. 

The move is designed to align with the government’s overarching legally binding target of achieving ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, and it also complements a strengthened interim target the government announced of aiming to reduce the UK's emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The UK has already delivered a 44% reduction in emissions compared with 1990 levels, according to the UK government.

The latest commitment comes ahead of Glasgow hosting the UN climate summit, COP 26, in November. Climate change mitigation and sustainability expert Stacey Collins of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that the UK’s new target could galvanise others globally to set tougher climate-related goals too.

Collins said: “Other countries, particularly the US, are setting out more aggressive policies and targets to address climate change. The UK’s ambitious new climate target demonstrates its commitment to being a front-runner in this space. That ambition and commitment will hopefully encourage world leaders to increase their own climate commitments.”

The sixth carbon budget provides government ministers with advice on the volume of greenhouse gases (GHGs) the UK will be able to emit during the period of 2033 to 2037. The CCC, which as the independent, statutory body responsible for advising the UK government and devolved administrations on progress towards meeting climate-related targets, produced its recommendations for the budget in December 2020. It said that the UK will need to achieve a 78% reduction in its emissions by 2035, compared to 1990 levels, to remain on track to meet its 2050 'net zero' target.

The UK government said that while it would adopt the CCC’s 78% emissions reduction target for 2035, it would not implement every policy recommendation the CCC had suggested to enable the UK to hit that target.

“Setting a target and meeting it are two different things,” Collins said. “The UK has a number of strategies and climate goals that have been set by the government over the past 12 months, but in many areas we do not yet have a clear route-map to enable them to be implemented.”

“The next two years will be crucial for the UK’s ability to meet its enhanced climate target. By the end of that period the UK ought to be in a position where massive change is happening across the country, as it will have set out detailed pathways in terms of the regulations, financial support and specific policies needed to deliver on each of its climate goals,” he said.

“The hope is that the government’s net zero strategy, which is expected to be published before COP26, will be focused on accelerating the transition from climate targets to climate action,” Collins said.

Last month the government published what it described as a ‘world first' industrial decarbonisation strategy, as well as a North Sea transition deal aimed at supporting the UK’s oil and gas industry in the move to green energy that builds on funding commitments outlined in last year's energy white paper.