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The UK Will Speed Up Targets for Cutting Carbon Emissions to Spur Action Ahead of COP26

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More ambitious climate targets will commit the UK to cutting carbon emissions further and faster, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.

The new target will put Britain on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% compared with 1990 levels by 2035, a more comprehensive objective than the current target, which is a 68% reduction by 2030

It would be committed in law in the same way as the UK’s target to reach net zero emissions by 2050. For the first time, emissions from the aviation and shipping sectors will be included in the emissions reduction targets too, a statement from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed.

The decision to toughen up the UK’s target comes in part because the UK is hosting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, this November in Glasgow, and the government is urging other countries to take action and improve their own climate targets.

It has also been strengthened in order for the UK to effectively to stay within its sixth carbon budget, the recommendations for which are provided by Climate Change Committee, an independent body that advises the government on the climate. 

The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget, published in December 2020, sets out all the changes the UK will have to make by the years 2033 to 2037 to achieve its 2050 net zero target.

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Hitting the new 78% target — and staying within budget — will require radical changes in policies, including an increase in renewable energy, a switch to electric cars, more energy efficient homes, and a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy, the report from the Climate Change Committee said. 

Other recommendations they put forward include reducing flights and car journeys, and an increase in planting woodland.

The UK’s announcement comes ahead of a major climate meeting being held by US President Joe Biden on Thursday, where the US will also be outlining new targets.

The steps taken by the US will be significant as the country rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement in January and now will be unveiling its own Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) — which are the detailed reduction plans that countries submit every five years under the Paris Agreement.

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Responding to the news of the more significant UK government’s targets, climate campaigners were positive about the idea but said it needed to be backed up by policy changes.

Leo Murray, co-founder of the climate change innovation charity Possible said the announcement was “fantastic” but added: “We’re not on track to meet previous climate commitments and in many ways the government is still failing.”

Murray pointed to the fact that the government had scrapped the Green Homes Grant for insulating homes, had not stopped airport expansion, and is "still pushing a £27 billion roads budget”.

Meanwhile Tom Burke, a director at the environment think tank E3G, said: “The most important thing, I think, is for [the prime minister] to focus his policy around energy efficiency, around wind and solar, and around storage of electricity and the management of the grid."

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “At the moment it’s a bit of Boris blunderbuss and is a huge range of marginal things instead of a concentration of effort on those things that will deliver the most emissions reductions in the fastest time.”

The government has already come under fire from activists and politicians several times in 2021 for its climate change policy failures.

For example, the UK is cutting the international aid budget that, among many other things, supports life-saving climate interventions around the world, while the government is also currently reviewing a plan for the first underground coal mine to be built in 30 years.