Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Call for more detail on meeting UK's emissions targets

Out-Law News | 07 Dec 2020 | 10:11 am | 3 min. read

More detail is needed from the UK government on how it intends to deliver on ambitious new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets it has set, and the support that will be given to businesses to help meet those objectives, according to energy, environment and climate change experts at international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Paul Rice, Stacey Collins and Nick McDonald were commenting after the government announced that it hopes to reduce the UK's emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The new target replaces a previous 53% reduction target that had been outlined for 2030 as prime minister Boris Johnson reiterated his government's intention to "go further and faster to tackle climate change".

The new emissions reduction target, which does not account for emissions in shipping or aviation, was announced ahead of the UN Climate Ambition Summit scheduled for 12 December – the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement. The UK is co-hosting the summit, which is a prelude to Glasgow hosting the delayed UN climate summit, COP 26, in November 2021.

Johnson said: "Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030, faster than any major economy, with our 10 point plan helping us on our path to reach it. But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders as part of next week’s Climate Ambition Summit to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero targets."

The new 2030 target is a stepping stone towards the UK's wider ambition of achieving 'net zero' emissions by 2050 – an ambition that is enshrined in UK legislation.

Paul Rice of Pinsent Masons said: "The government should be congratulated in setting a revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to achieve the broader global targets set out in the Paris Agreement, but the government must follow up with real resources as well as clear regulation and unambiguous guidance to allow all sectors to make the necessary climate transition plans."

"The lack of clarity around the impending UK emissions trading scheme (ETS) and whether UK plc will also face a carbon tax is just one example of the need to provide business with certainty to make meaningful plans," he said.

Collins Stacey Nov_2019

Stacey Collins


There is a need to directly remove carbon, and other GHGs, out of the atmosphere to offset the emissions from such industries [as aviation and shipping]  

The government has acknowledged that the UK will only be able to meet its 2050 target if "greenhouse gas removals" (GGRs) are used "to balance residual emissions from some of the most difficult to decarbonise sectors, such as industry, agriculture, and aviation".

Those comments were contained in a separate paper the government published on Friday which encourages stakeholders to provide evidence on GGR methods as well as their "views on policy mechanisms that could incentivise and facilitate their development and deployment".

Stacey Collins of Pinsent Masons said: "It is welcome that the government is moving forward with its 'net zero' agenda and building on its recent 10 point plan in which it committed to invest £1 billion in projects that capture and store the carbon produced by power generation and industrial processes. However, those actions alone will not be enough to decarbonise industries such as aviation and shipping in the time-frames that the government has set for achieving net-zero – as a result there is a need to directly remove carbon, and other GHGs, out of the atmosphere to offset the emissions from such industries."

"As the government has acknowledged in its new 'call for evidence' paper, there are nature-based methods of removing carbon from the atmosphere, such as growing more trees, but those projects often take significant time to have the desired effect. Engineering-based solutions are therefore needed to remove emissions from the atmosphere more quickly. It is right that the government is looking at all the options and welcome that the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is undertaking a study on GGR technologies, but there needs to be an accelerated timetable for assessing, supporting and deploying GGR technologies. As the government has highlighted, many of these technologies are at a nascent stage of maturity and 'not yet ready to be deployed at scale'," he said.

In addition to other engineering-based solutions like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and enhanced weathering, which entails chemically altering soil to absorb more carbon, different direct air capture (DAC) technologies will be explored by the NIC as part of its study.

McDonald Nick

Nick McDonald


Businesses developing DAC solutions will need government support to take concepts through the research and development phases, piloting initiatives and ultimately into commercialisation

DAC technology uses chemical processes to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from ambient air. The CO2 is then separated from the chemicals and captured. Often large fans are used to direct air across a chemical substance in order to separate out the CO2 and solid sorbent filters used for storage which, when heated, release the CO2 for use, such as in the production of fuels, chemicals, building materials and other products, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

Nick McDonald of Pinsent Masons said: "Currently DAC is very expensive and energy intensive. This is because it is more challenging to capture the dilute CO2 in the atmosphere than at an industrial setting where it is concentrated. As with all new technology, businesses developing DAC solutions will need government support to take concepts through the research and development phases, piloting initiatives and ultimately into commercialisation."

"DAC technology will only ever be part of much wider carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) solutions. However, while the sub-sector is still at its early stages of development, both in relation to the technology and business models, it may be that we see DAC facilities established in close proximity to manufacturing plants where CO2 has some utility – that way, DAC businesses can sell the CO2 they capture rather than expend additional costs in finding places to store it, such as underground," he said.