A 'vital step': Green economy reacts to the UK's new climate commitment

Green groups and business leaders have welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that the UK has created an updated domestic emissions target for 2030 as its contribution to the Paris Agreement, but with progress lacking against upcoming carbon budgets, many want to see more detailed action plans.

Green groups have welcomed the commitment, but want more detailed outlines of how decarbonisation will be delivered

Green groups have welcomed the commitment, but want more detailed outlines of how decarbonisation will be delivered

The UK officially unveiled a target to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, on Thursday night (3 December). The target will act as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, which determines the required domestic action each country must take to help deliver on the global agreement.

The new target meets the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which advised on the net-zero target for 2050 and is set to publish guidance on future carbon budgets imminently.

Here, edie summarises the key thoughts from business leaders and green groups.

Peter Simpson, chief executive of Anglian Water and Co-Chair of The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group

“Credible plans matter in the race to zero, so today’s announcement is welcomed. It’s why the water industry recently launched its own routemap to net-zero by 2030. There’s never been a more important time for companies to step up, invest, and take action to support both national ambition and global need, and this expectation is something our customers have been very clear about. COP26 means the spotlight is on. Climate change won’t wait for us, and the time for action is now.” 

Alison Rose, chief executive NatWest Group, principal partners of COP26:

“NatWest Group is committed to helping the Government deliver green investment and growth. As the leading bank in the UK for business customers we have a significant responsibility to lead the way in helping people across the UK tackle climate change and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we welcome the Government’s announcement today.”

Anders Opedal, chief executive of Equinor

“As a significant and growing investor in the UK, Equinor welcomes this increased climate ambition, which will encourage more investment and job creation in a UK low-carbon economy. Equinor aims to be a net-zero company by 2050, and works together with the UK government and society to develop solutions towards a low-carbon future. Equinor is currently actively involved in technology development, offshore wind, and hydrogen and carbon capture and storage projects in the U.K. We look forward to future exciting announcements.”

Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive, SSE:

“The UK’s 2030 ambition set out by the Prime Minister today is among the most ambitious in the world and we’re excited about working alongside government to deliver it. This kind of bold and decisive policy-making will help unlock the investment needed to deliver on our net-zero ambitions, tackle climate change and help spur a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.”

Stephen Moorhouse, vice president and general manager, Great Britain, Coca-Cola European Partners:

“At Coca-Cola European Partners in GB we have reduced our carbon impact by more than a third over the last decade but we know much more is needed. We are one of many organisations who have signed the Business Ambition for 1.5 pledge as we understand the importance of businesses collaborating with clear and ambitious targets to tackle climate change. We welcome the bold commitment from the UK government as a crucial step to accelerate the transition to net-zero.”

Jason Tarry chief executive, UK & Republic of Ireland, Tesco:

“It’s critical Britain sets a clear pathway of action to lead the fight against climate change, and this confirmation of an ambitious NDC is an important step on that journey. Our supply chain and long-term business sustainability depend on the health of the natural environment, and our customers and colleagues expect Tesco to play its part in caring for the planet, which is why we’ve brought forward our own ambition to reach net-zero in our UK operations by 15 years, to 2035.”  

Jeremy Darroch, Group chief executive, Sky: 

“This is a vital step forward and should focus all our minds on the urgency of the climate crisis. How we respond to this crisis will define our generation, so it’s right that the Government has set bold and ambitious targets. We only have one chance to get this right and business wants to work with the Government as we approach COP26 to be a positive part of the solution, helping us build back in a sustainable way.” 

Keith Anderson chief executive ScottishPower:

“Today’s announcement marks a significant acceleration in the race to zero and aligns with our own ambition at ScottishPower to build back greener and help lead the response to the climate emergency.  

 “We are investing £10bn in the next five years towards doubling our renewable generation capacity, delivering the network infrastructure required to support decarbonisation across transport and heat as well as offering our customers 100 per cent clean power – all of which will create jobs, strengthen supply chains and drive innovation across the energy sector. This ambitious new target will help shape a decade of delivery with both purpose and momentum, putting us all on the path to a better future quicker.” 

Andy Wales, chief digital impact and sustainability officer at BT Group:  

“We welcome today’s announcement by the UK Government, which sets ambitious targets and sends a clear signal that we need to transition to a low carbon economy. It’s encouraging to see the UK using its presidency of the G7 and COP26 to demonstrate leadership on climate action and inspire others to raise their ambitions. 

 “BT has long recognised the importance of setting ambitious carbon reduction targets. We were one of the first companies in the world to set a 1.5°C aligned science-based target - to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of our business by 87% by 2030. Beyond that, we’ve pledged to become a net-zero carbon emissions business by 2045.” 

Ed Matthew, Cop-26 co-director for The Climate Coalition:

“It is notable that the UK has set a 2030 target which is a step up in ambition and in line with its legal duty to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This is important progress but not sufficient. A more ambitious cut is both feasible and necessary to keep us safe and reflect our massive historic carbon emissions. We must remember too that the climate will not respond to targets, it will respond to carbon cuts. It is action that counts.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU):

"The UK's NDC has been a long time coming, and it's important that government is publishing it before the end of 2020, living up to the commitment that all countries made in the Paris Agreement.

"While the level of ambition won't please all campaigners, this is the most significant NDC announcement so far from any major economy, increasing the pace of carbon-cutting by about 50% and accelerating opportunities for companies in low-carbon sectors. Meeting it would put the UK on track to delivering on its net-zero target for 2050, and sets down a marker for other prosperous nations regarding their own minimum level of NDC ambition.”

Luke Murphy, head of IPPR’s cross-party Environmental Justice Commission: 

"This new emissions target is a welcome and significant increase in ambition by the UK government, ahead of the crucial UN Summit. As host of COP 26, it sends an important signal to other countries around the world that are currently considering their own commitments. 

"This must, however, be the floor of the UK's ambition and not the ceiling. As the world's fifth-largest historic emitter, the UK has a moral responsibility to go faster and further than less developed nations. Moreover, this new target excludes international aviation and shipping and it is important that the government also makes a commitment to reduce emissions in these sectors.”

Ian Calvert, chief executive, The Association for Decentralised Energy

"With the Prime Minister announcing a target of reducing our carbon emissions by 68% from 1990 levels, it is clear that everyone is going to have to ‘muck in’ so we can make this happen.

“People at home and at work should be aware that only low carbon options will be available when replacing or building new, and we all are going to have to think about how to make this work best, locally, for us. The good news is that the energy industry is ready to meet the ambition of the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) announced today and there are cost-effective ways of heating our homes, being energy efficient and energy smart, with a lot of the new ways of doing things being pioneered in heavy industry already.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP

“Setting the UK’s NDC at 68% is an ambitious target and sends a strong message to other Governments that we must all focus hard and get cracking in moving towards a low-carbon world.

“However, the ambition and target setting is only part of the equation. My Committee has heard only this week from the Energy Minister that we are not on track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. From our inquiries, and more widely, it is abundantly clear that achieving net-zero and reducing carbon requires decarbonising homes, boosting renewable energy, and setting sufficiently strong signals for business so they can invest in a green future. The long-overdue strategies on Heat & Buildings and Hydrogen cannot come soon enough, along with the Energy White Paper, that will hopefully put the skin on the bones of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan that industry currently needs.”

Duncan Burt, COP26 Director at National Grid:

“This is a strong commitment and shows the UK leading the way ahead of hosting COP next year. It lays the foundations for constructive engagement and a package of policies to accelerate decarbonisation. National Grid is at the heart of the clean energy transition and we’re ready to work with government to deliver on these ambitions.”

Paul Simpson, chief executive CDP:

“We welcome the UK Government’s NDC announcement. The 68% reduction is in line with the Climate Change Committee's advice to stay on track to meeting the UK’s net-zero target and in line with the action that ambitious businesses are already taking - CDP has found that the UK businesses who have set the most ambitious 1.5°C degree aligned Science-based targets are, together, committed to reducing their cumulative, global operational emissions by 68%. These businesses know this target is achievable and are already working towards it.

"As hosts of COP26, this commitment (amongst the most ambitious of any country so far) sends an important signal both at home and abroad about the importance of climate leadership. This can inspire other countries to act and further incentivize non-state actors to ramp up their climate action. The NDC sets a clear direction of travel and leaves open the possibility of even further ambition – as 68% is the minimum level of ambition set. This ambitious NDC will now need to be matched by equally ambitious policies to deliver it – and will also require further climate action from businesses, investors, and cities.”

David Smith, chief executive at Energy Networks Association

“The new climate target must be backed up with climate action which is why the Prime Minister’s recent 10 Point Plan is so important. We look forward to the Energy White Paper which should set out the policy needed to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicles, increase the amount of renewables on the grid, and develop a hydrogen economy. This will help to support skilled, green jobs and cut the country's emissions at best value and least disruption to the public.”

Oxfam GB’s climate policy expert Tracy Carty:

“The Government’s commitment is a vital step in bringing the UK closer to its fair share of global action needed to tackle the climate crisis. Lives and livelihoods are already being lost due to climate change, particularly in poorer countries that have done least to cause it.  To get off the catastrophic emissions path we are currently on demands bolder action and for the UK to reduce our emissions even further. The Government as hosts of next year’s UN climate summit now needs to galvanise other nations to announce more ambitious reduction targets.”

Darren Jones, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee:

“The PM’s announcement is welcome and sets a positive direction for the UK to achieve net-zero. We look forward to seeing the roadmap to meet this target and more details on how the Government will deliver on the PM’s 10-point plan. It’s vital the UK shows action at home and leadership abroad to bring other countries with us in making ambitious climate change commitments in the lead up to COP 26 in Glasgow.

“Getting to net-zero will require all of government to play a role and I hope this target will kick-start a co-ordinated drive across all departments to put in the joined-up policies, measures, and actions to get to net zero. I hope we will also see from Government a commitment to tackling international aviation and shipping and a focus on how we might incorporate these formally into UK’s emission reduction targets.”

Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance:

“This commitment to a more ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 is a good first step towards putting the UK on track to net zero and is a valuable signal of ambition for the host of next year’s UN climate conference. Every department of government now needs to get on board and implement clear policies to promote rapid decarbonisation. And the Treasury must provide the support necessary to enable them to deliver.

“Rapid domestic action on climate change will also help the economy to recover from the Covid crisis and develop long term resilience, with new low carbon industries and jobs. Today’s announcement lays the foundation for the even greater ambition we need to see over the next decade if the UK is to fulfil its fair share of global mitigation efforts.”

Matt Mace



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