The Government is to make a legal commitment to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels.
The move is in line with recommendations from the independent Climate Change Committee and will limit the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a five-year period from 2033 to 2037, taking the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050.
Prior to enshrining its net zero commitment in law, the UK had a target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050 – through today’s sixth Carbon Budget announcement, the government is aiming to achieve almost the same level 15 years earlier.
For the first time, this Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions meaning their emissions will be “accounted for consistently”, the Government said.
The announcement comes ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the opening session of the US Leaders’ Summit on Climate, hosted by President Biden on Earth Day (April 22).
The Prime Minister 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 Government is already working towards its commitment to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 68% compared to 1990 levels through the UK’s latest Nationally Determined Contribution - the highest reduction target made by a major economy to date.
The new target will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021, with legislation setting out the UK Government’s commitments laid in Parliament tomorrow (April 21).
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.”
Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “The targets we’ve set ourselves in the sixth Carbon Budget will see us go further and faster than any other major economy to achieve a completely carbon neutral future.
“This latest target shows the world that the UK is serious about protecting the health of our planet, while also seizing the new economic opportunities it will bring and capitalising on green technologies – yet another step as we build back greener from the pandemic and we lead the world towards a cleaner, more prosperous future for this generation and those to come.”
Through its presidency of the UN climate summit, COP26, which will take place in Glasgow later this year, the UK is urging countries and companies around the world to join the UK in delivering net zero globally by the middle of the century and set ambitious targets for cutting emissions by 2030.
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.”
The government will look to meet this reduction target through investing and capitalising on new green technologies and innovation.
HM Treasury will publish its Net Zero Review in the coming months setting out how the Government plans to maximise economic growth opportunities from the net zero transition while ensuring contributions are "fair" between consumers, businesses and the British taxpayer.
The cross-government Net Zero Strategy is also set to be published ahead of COP26, with Kwarteng currently commissioning work across Whitehall to help inform the plans across key sectors of the economy.
Greater collaboration needed between government and private sector, says NIC
Welcoming the Government announcement, Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “This ambitious target provides an important signal of intent, and raises the bar on the level of collaboration that will be required between government and private sector.
"Government urgently needs to set out clear, funded plans to support delivery of the infrastructure needed to support the journey to net zero.
“The Commission repeats its call for detailed polices, developed in partnership with industry, to deliver the necessary developments such as sufficient electric vehicle charging points, taking concrete steps to decarbonise the country’s heating supply, and schemes to significantly improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s homes.”