Gemserv’s thoughts on UK’s new 78% emissions reduction goal for 2035

By Christina Thompson Yates, Policy Communications Manager

Big Zero Report 2023

Promising news broke this week that the UK Government has accelerated its climate target and committed to a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035. The reduction, based on 1990 levels, aligns with recommendations made by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) for the Government’s sixth Carbon Budget, which laid out a pathway for the UK to reach net zero.

The announcement that the UK Government has accepted the CCC’s recommendations strengthens the UK’s position as a global leader on climate action in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) being held in Glasgow this November. The announcement also comes just days ahead of President Biden’s Earth Day Summit, where PM Boris Johnson will address the opening session and urge world leaders to tackle the climate crisis.

Gemserv will no doubt be joined by many others in welcoming the Government’s sixth Carbon Budget which builds on the UK’s previous goal to achieve a 68% carbon emissions reduction by 2030. However, setting targets is the easy part. We also need to see a clear plan of action from the Government to ensure that they are met.

With the UK not currently on track to meet its previous climate commitments, positive reactions to the announcement coincide with widespread calls for strong policy frameworks that encourage decarbonisation across the economy and make up for lost time.

Policy must be scaled up across all sectors of the economy to deliver on ambitions with the required low-carbon investment estimated at £50bn a year. Decisive, long term action will therefore need to be taken across the next decade to deliver on the more progressive climate ambitions and to instigate the level of transformation required.

Cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 will necessitate the decarbonisation of all areas of the economy, including the UK’s building stock which has historically seen a lack of policy certainty and ambition. The Conservative Party made a key manifesto commitment to improve the energy efficiency of homes and later launched a Green Homes Grant scheme as part of plans to drive a green recovery from Covid-19. However, following the premature closure of the scheme, there remains lack of certainty around the decarbonisation of UK homes during a critical year for climate action.

The strengthening of UK climate targets will place more pressure on the Government to produce an ambitious Heating and Building Strategy this Spring that will set out the immediate actions needed to reduce carbon emissions from buildings through the deployment of low carbon and energy efficient solutions. While technologies such as heat networks, heat pumps and hydrogen are expected to play a key role in the low carbon heating transition, stable policy frameworks will provide the clarity and confidence needed to unlock widespread uptake and investment.

We also expect the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan to be published shortly. Transport is the most energy intensive sector in the UK so the shift in ambition will also prompt action to decarbonise roads. If recommendations made by the CCC are to be followed, we can expect continued support for public transport, cycling, and hydrogen and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure combined with incentives to reduce demand for higher-carbon travel.

Crucially, the new target will be enshrined in law by the end of June 2021 and will incorporate emissions from aviation and shipping for the first time. We are looking forward to the cross-government Net Zero Strategy which will be published before COP26. It is essential that investment in technology, research, skills and job creation is encouraged and this will require all government departments working together to ensure that the net zero targets are at the core of the policy development process.

Gemserv welcomes the news that the UK Government has tightened its ambitions to more accurately reflect the severity of the climate emergency and to spark what PM Boris Johnson has called a green industrial revolution. With COP26 due to take place in Glasgow in November, the UK has a unique opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to a greener economy in the hope that other nations will do the same.

Samantha Crichton, Head of Policy Insights and Engagement said:

“The Government’s decision to accept the advice of the Climate Change Committee to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 is hugely promising, but there is plenty of work to be done to ensure this ambition is met. With the UK not currently on track to meet net zero, clear and decisive strategies are needed in relation to Heating, Buildings and Transport across the next decade. It is essential that stable, long term policy is introduced to encourage action across the economy, and we are incredibly proud that our work supports this.”

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