It’s official: UK sets net-zero target into law

Parliamentary convention dictates that MPs must first respond to draft legislation through a verbal vote of ‘aye’ or ‘no’. Following a small discussion featuring a modest number of MPs on Monday night (24 June), the Commons approved the amendment without the need for a formal vote. The legislation was officially signed this morning by Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore.

“The UK kick-started the Industrial Revolution, which was responsible for economic growth across the globe but also for increasing emissions,” Skidmore said.

“Today we’re leading the world yet again in becoming the first major economy to pass new laws to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 while remaining committed to growing the economy – putting clean growth at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy.

“We’re pioneering the way for other countries to follow in our footsteps driving prosperity by seizing the economic opportunities of becoming a greener economy.”

The UK has already reduced emissions by 42% while growing the economy by 72%. The Government claims that its Industrial Strategy, which focuses on the decoupling emissions, could boost green jobs by two million and grow low-carbon exports to £170bn by 2030.


Developed in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on legislating for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, which was published last month, the amendments increase the ambitions of the Climate Change Act, which targeted an 80% reduction by 2050.

Crucially, the CCC believes that reaching net-zero by 2050 can be done using between 1-2% of GDP in 2050. This is the same level of funding currently allocated to work related to compliance with the Climate Change Act.

— Net-zero in the UK: Everything you need to know —

The approval comes just days after analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) found that 16% of GDP is now covered by net-zero carbon emission ambitions, with fifteen nations, states and regional areas intending to reach the target by 2050.

Many of the countries have made commitments in policy documents, with two countries – Norway and Sweden – setting the target into law. Other countries aim to also make legally binding declarations with only two – Bhutan and Suriname – already absorbing more greenhouse gases than they emit. The nations are joined by 11 states and regions, including California, Catalunya and Scotland, and at least 23 cities including Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York on the net-zero map.

It also comes as the UK is set to host COP26, the UN climate summit in December 2020 with governments due to further Paris Agreement plans and outline how they aim to cut emissions more deeply across the next 30 years up to 2050. The ECIU report calls on COP26 to be a ‘net zero’ summit, involving civil society, academia, business and the finance sector in planning to expand the spread of net zero targets and delivery of net-zero economies.

Both Wales and Scotland have accepted the CCC’s recommendations on national targets and have voted them into law.

Long yards ahead

While the legislation is welcome, there is a lot of work ahead. The CCC has revealed that the UK is not on course to meet future carbon budgets or the existing 80% target. There are also questions as to whether the ban on diesel and petrol vehicles will need to be pushed forward and whether offsets from shipping and aviation will need to be reconsidered.

The approval of Heathrow’s third runway casts further doubt as to whether the UK will be able to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, with green campaigners claiming that the “climate-wrecking” third runway is unlawful.

Matt Mace

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