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Government seeks 78% reduction in emissions by 2035

Words: Laura Edgar
Emissions target / iStock-462315333

The UK Government has set an ‘ambitious’ target to reduce emissions by 78 per cent compared with 1990 levels as it looks forward to hosting COP26 in November.

The target will be set in law by the end of June 2021. Legislation setting this and other commitments out will be laid in Parliament today (21 April).

The previous target for the UK was to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

The Sixth Carbon Budget is in line with a recommendation from the Climate Change Committee. It intends for the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a five-year period from 2033 to 2037 to be limited, taking the UK to three-quarters of the way to reaching net-zero by 2050.

The government said the budget seeks to ensure that Britain remains on track to “end its contribution to climate change” and stay consistent with the Paris agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to below 2°C and work towards 1.5°C.

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.”

According to the government, the UK over-achieved against its first and second Carbon Budgets. It is also on track to outperform the third Carbon Budget, which ends in 2022.

This is attributed to “significant cuts” in greenhouse gases across the economy and industry. The UK brought emissions down by 44 per cent between 1990 and 2019, two-thirds of which was achieved in the power sector. Additionally, renewable electricity generation has increased since 2010 and low-carbon electricity accounts for 50 per cent of generation.

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.”

Johnson is addressing the opening session of the US Leaders’ Summit on Climate, hosted by President Biden on Earth Day tomorrow (22 April). He will urge countries to raise ambition on tackling climate change and join the UK in setting “stretching targets” for reducing emissions by 2030 to align with net-zero.


The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) welcomed the target but said the government must lead a campaign to green the UK’s homes.

Brian Berry, chief executive, said: “The prime minister’s target to cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 will help accelerate the UK’’s transition to a low-carbon economy, but the building industry needs a national retrofit strategy to have the confidence it needs to invest in greening our homes. Our homes use 35 per cent of the UK’s total energy usage and emit 20 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Net-zero will only be possible with a long-term plan to green our homes.

“With the Green Homes Grant Scheme stopped prematurely in its tracks, it is essential that the forthcoming Heat and Building Strategy be ambitious, long-term and comprehensive in its plan to upgrade our housing stock. This will help position the UK as a global leader in tackling climate change ahead of COP26.”

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Connor Schwartz commented: “Targets for cutting emissions are important, but without the right policies they won’t be met. The UK Government is already struggling to meet its existing, less ambitious climate goals.   

“Boris Johnson’s government may want to show global leadership ahead of this year’s crucial climate summit, but with its backing for new roads and airport expansion, and huge financial support for a mega gas development in Mozambique, it won’t be taken seriously.”

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said: “It’s right for the UK to secure its position as a world leader on climate change by stepping up our emissions reduction target in the run-up to the UN summit in Glasgow this year.

“As a next step, to ensure we achieve our ambitions, and to galvanise industry investment, we need to see a specific commitment by government to decarbonise the electricity sector by 100 per cent by 2035, in line with the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations. This means setting ambitious deployment targets for onshore wind as well as offshore, alongside innovative technologies like floating wind, wave and tidal energy and renewable hydrogen, as every tool in the box has a vital role to play.   

“To ramp up renewable energy development, we also need to see renewable energy projects being consented in a more timely manner, so we’re calling for ministers to put more financial resources into the expert bodies which rigorously scrutinise new applications. And critically, we need to accelerate work on upgrading the electricity grid to allow us to maximise the benefits of renewable power for consumers.”

Image credit | iStock