The UK government is failing to deliver on ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions, its own climate advisors have warned.
Earlier this year the government announced it was speeding up its fossil fuel cutting goals — putting in place what was described as a “world-leading” target to cut emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035. Britain was also the first major economy to enshrine its net-zero by 2050 target in law in 2019.
However, despite these bold plans to reduce emissions, the country looks set to fail the targets and potentially break its own legal obligations by 2050, experts say, because it is not making detailed plans to achieve them.
In two major reports published on Thursday, the independent Climate Change Committee, which is made up of leading environmental experts, gives credit to the scope of the UK’s climate targets but has told the government it needs to make over 200 changes across all departments to get on track to meet them.
Its recommendations include an urgent heating and buildings strategy to make homes more low-carbon, fast tracking the phase-out of gas boilers and replacing the scrapped green homes grant so that people can access funds for energy-saving refurbishments.
Another is for a “net-zero test” to be applied to all government decisions, including planning decisions, to ensure they are compatible with the net-zero target. That wraps-in decisions on new roads which the committee recommends can only be built if it is demonstrated they won’t contribute to an increase in overall emissions, the report says.
Ministers are also advised to encourage the public to eat less meat — aiming for a shift towards eating 20% less meat and dairy by 2030, rising to 35% less by 2050. This would be accompanied by a policy to reduce food waste by 50% over the next nine years.
Lord Deben, a House of Lords peer and chair of the Climate Change Committee, said that in “almost every area [of carbon reduction] there has been serious delays, and where there hasn’t been delay, the ambition has not been realised in the action — we haven’t met the mark.”
Speaking at an online launch event for the reports, he added that he would give the government a “nine out of 10” score for the climate targets themselves, but “somewhere below four out of 10” for the delivery.
Lord Deben stressed that the UK urgently needs to get more detailed action plans in place ahead of hosting the UN’s annual climate conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow this November. The international summit will be a crucial moment in getting countries to agree to reducing emissions and making necessary changes to do so.
“We have got to have a net-zero policy which is absolutely based on action and delivery… and we have got to have it well before the COP26 summit because if it isn’t there the government’s promises will not be taken seriously,” he said.
The report notes that during the lockdowns to control the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 the UK’s carbon emissions plunged by 13%, how it adds that was not related to any climate policy but a coincidence.
It also adds that while emissions from energy generation have fallen in recent years, as more power for the National Grid now comes from renewable sources — other sectors such as transport, industry, and agriculture were not reducing emissions fast enough.
The report comes as the UK looks set to approve new oil extraction in a North Sea oil field off the coast of Scotland. The oil and gas project will not be subject to a new “climate checkpoint” intended to determine whether projects are compatible with climate objectives, because the area was first licenced for oil exploration back in 2001, City AM reported.
The oil field contains more than 800 million barrels of oil and will produce fossil fuels until 2050, it was reported.
In response to criticism about the planned oil extraction, a spokesperson for the Department for Business said they were “working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels but we also know there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years.”
In response to the Climate Change Committee report, Mike Childs, the head of policy at environmental charity Friends of the Earth, said: “With no climate action plan and his government’s support for more roads, runways, and an overseas gas mega-project, Boris Johnson risks being a laughing stock at the UN climate summit he is hosting in Glasgow later this year.”