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UK must see a 78% fall in pollution emissions by 2035

Words: Laura Edgar

Polluting emissions in the UK must fall by 78 per cent by 2035, compared with 1990 levels, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

This was the UK's 2050 goal 18 months ago.

It should sit alongside an ambition to reduce emissions by at least 68 per cent relative to 1990 by 2030.

The targets should cover all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from international aviation and shipping.

The ambition is set out in the committee's Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037) published today (9 December), a 1,000-page report it says is the “first-ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation”.

To deliver on the target, the committee explains that a “major investment programme” across the country must be delivered, largely by the private sector. In addition, this investment will be key to the UK economic recovery over the next 10 years.

This will give people in many areas “real savings” because the nation will use fewer resources and adopt more efficient technologies that are cleaner, such as electric cars.

The committee said these savings “substantially reduce the cost of net-zero compared with previous assessments: now down to less than 1 per cent of GDP throughout the next 30 years”. This results from the falling cost of offshore wind as well as a range of new low-cost, low-carbon solutions in every sector.

It urges the government to make sure the 2020s are the “decisive decade of progress and action” on climate change.

Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Debden, said: “The Sixth Carbon Budget is a clear message to the world that the UK is open for low-carbon business. It’s ambitious, realistic and affordable. This is the right carbon budget for the UK at the right time. We deliver our recommendations to government with genuine enthusiasm, knowing that Britain’s decisive zero-carbon transition brings real benefits to our people and our businesses while making the fundamental changes necessary to protect our planet.

“As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, The Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery. Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as president of the next UN climate talks.”

The Sixth Carbon Budget can be met through four key steps:

  • Take-up of low-carbon solutions. People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions, as high-carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low-carbon – largely electric. By 2040 all new trucks are low-carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
  • Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies. UK electricity production is zero-carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the prime minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.
  • Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities. The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20 per cent by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.
  • Land and greenhouse gas removals. There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13 per cent of UK land today to 15 per cent by 2035 and 18 per cent by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.


The RTPI warned that planning will play a "crucial role" in delivering many of the committee's recommendations, and therefore needs to be "adequately resourced".

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills said: “The largest proposed investments in this report are for low-carbon power capacity, building retrofit and the added costs of batteries and infrastructure for electric vehicles. Planning will play a vital role in coordinating this investment across the built and natural environment, and ensuring that new development is located and designed in ways that support the rapid transition to net zero, including increased take up of active travel.

“In order to do this local authority planning departments must be adequately funded. The £12 million allocated by the UK Government to support its planning reform agenda in England is not enough for planning to effectively deliver the requirements of this carbon budget.”

RenewableUK’s head of policy and regulation Rebecca Williams said: “The CCC is right to urge government to move faster to reach net-zero by taking a series of key steps which will benefit consumers by delivering cheap energy, as well as slashing carbon emissions.

“As their latest report states, low-cost offshore wind will play a major role as the backbone of our future power system with up to 140GW installed by 2050 – a fourteen-fold increase in our current capacity – and we also need a ramping up of onshore wind and innovative technologies like floating wind, tidal stream and renewable hydrogen to get there.

“The report highlights the fact that this will deliver tens of thousands of new jobs throughout the UK, especially including regions which need levelling up most, as part of the Just Transition from fossil fuels to renewables. As the report points out, certainty over consenting issues and auctions for contracts to generate power will help to increase investment in the UK renewable energy supply chain.

“Billions of pounds in investment by the private sector will help to achieve this. The CCC highlights the fact that this can only be achieved by government enabling the construction of new grid infrastructure for offshore wind, and ensuring that the planning system is improved by resourcing environmental bodies appropriately, as well as working closely with other sea users and addressing aviation radar issues."

Mike Childs, head of science at Friends of the Earth, said: “This is too conservative given the havoc and misery extreme weather is already causing, particularly to the poorest people in the world who have contributed least to climate breakdown. Areas like energy efficiency and eco-heating are challenging but would come on in leaps and bounds with immediate and sustained investment. For example, heat pumps are a proven technology and we should be aiming to phase out the installation of new gas boilers well before 2030 and fitting approximately 10 million heat pumps by the same date. Rapid investment in training fitters and hiring new apprenticeships will get this done.

“It’s what government does right now that will determine if we meet our carbon pollution reduction goals. And what the government is doing is ploughing £27 billion into climate-wrecking roads as well as funding damaging fossil-fuel projects overseas.”

The Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037) can be found on the Committee on Climate Change website.

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