Sixth Carbon Budget: UK to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to legislate a new target to reduce national emissions by 78% by 2035, including emissions from international shipping and aviation, following the Climate Change Committee's advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget.

The target will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021

The target will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021

In December 2020, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published its much-anticipated Sixth Carbon Budget. The Budget covers the period between 2033 and 2037 and has been described by the CCC as the “toughest yet”.

The CCC advised that the UK will need to deliver a 78% reduction by 2035 if it is to meet its long-term net-zero commitment. In comparison, the UK was originally targeting an 80% reduction by 2050 under the Climate Change Act.

Today (20 April), Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the target would be introduced based on CCC’s recommendations. It builds on the UK’s new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, which will see the nation reduce emissions by 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

A notable inclusion in the Sixth Carbon Budget is the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions. Historically, the Government’s emissions reduction efforts only accounted for emissions on a “territorial” basis and therefore only includes those within the UK’s borders, a decision that has drawn criticism from green groups.

The new target will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021, with legislation set to be introduced to Parliament tomorrow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We want to continue to raise the bar on tackling climate change, and that’s why we’re setting the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world.

“The UK will be home to pioneering businesses, new technologies and green innovation as we make progress to net-zero emissions, laying the foundations for decades of economic growth in a way that creates thousands of jobs.

“We want to see world leaders follow our lead and match our ambition in the run-up to the crucial climate summit COP26, as we will only build back greener and protect our planet if we come together to take action.”

Read more: Green groups react to Sixth Carbon Budget

Delivery gap

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic delivered an estimated 10.7% reduction in carbon emissions in 2020, with total greenhouse gas emissions almost 50% lower than they were in 1990, the baseline year for the UK's net-zero target. As highlighted by CarbonBrief’s deputy editor Dr Simon Jones, research suggests that emissions must now fall by a further 58% over a 15-year period to reach the new 2035 target.

Meeting the Budget’s requirements will require all new cars, vans and replacement boilers to be zero-carbon in operation by the early 2030s. UK electricity production must then reach net-zero by 2035, in line with the National Grid ESO’s vision, and the majority of existing UK homes will need to be retrofitted in some way also.

Looking to the latter half of the budget, domestic low-carbon industries like nature restoration, green hydrogen production and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) will be far larger.

The CCC has based its calculations on a scenario in which 40% of the emissions reductions needed will be delivered using pure-technology solutions. Delivering the remainder of the progress will require behaviour change including electric vehicle adoption and reducing demand for flights and red meat.

Delivering the UK’s 2050 net-zero target will cost between 0.5% and 1% of GDP. The CCC had previously forecast costs of between 1% and 2% of GDP but has adjusted calculations in light of cost reductions in sectors like offshore wind.

Annually, the Government will need to allocate £50bn more to decarbonisation each year by 2030 than it did in 2019, according to the CCC. But, by 2040, savings from fossil fuel allocations will overtake low-carbon costs.

COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma, said: “This hugely positive step forward for the UK sets a gold standard for ambitious Paris-aligned action that I urge others to keep pace with ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year. We must collectively keep 1.5 degrees of warming in reach and the next decade is the most critical period for us to change the perilous course we are currently on. 

"Long term targets must be backed up with credible delivery plans and setting this net-zero focused Sixth Carbon Budget builds on the world leading legal framework in our Climate Change Act. If we are to tackle the climate crisis and safeguard lives, livelihoods and nature for future generations, others must follow the UK’s example.” 

Matt Mace



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