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UK must set net-zero target for 2050: all you need to know

By Will Jenkins
2nd May 2019

The day after the Government declared a climate emergency, the Committee on Climate Change has published their long-awaited report on the UK’s long-term emissions targets which determines whether they are consistent with the 2015 Paris Agreement. We’ve had a quick flick through the 277-page report this morning and have summarised the key messages.

What does the climate emergency declaration mean?

While there is no single definition, most organisations that have previously acknowledged the climate emergency have also pledged to become net-zero by 2030. It remains to be seen what the government’s declaration will lead to, but it’s unlikely to be that ambitious. A recent poll carried out by Opinium Research for Greenpeace found that 63% of respondents agreed that “we are facing a climate emergency.”


What does the Committee on Climate Change’s report recommend?

Replace the existing GHG emissions target of 80% by 2050 (against 1990) with a target of net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. The report confirms that this commitment would go beyond what’s necessary to limit temperature rise to well-below 2°C, and towards the high end of the reductions necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C. Below you can see the key differences between a 1.5C and 2C world and why keeping well below 2C is so vital. The report also recommends:

  • A net-zero date of 2045 for Scotland, which reflects a greater opportunity to remove emissions.
  • A 95% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050 for Wales, which reflects the challenges of reducing emissions from agriculture.
  • The commitment must be comprehensive, achieved without the use of international credits and covering international aviation and shipping.
  • The commitment must be backed up by policy urgently to make the target credible.
  • The commitment should go beyond what is required for the world overall so it’s an appropriate UK contribution to the Paris Agreement in 2050 and reflects the agreement’s emphasis on equity and the UK’s capability.
  • A just transition is crucial so that the costs and benefits of decarbonising are distributed equitably.


I think the message is one of a false sense of security.

How does the report define net-zero?

‘Net-zero’ emissions means that the total of active removals from the atmosphere offsets any remaining emissions from the rest of the economy. The removals are expected to be important given the difficulty in entirely eliminating emissions from some sectors. The report recommends that the UK should set a net-zero target to cover all GHGs and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping. I think the message is one of a false sense of security – we’ve picked off the easy wins, benefited from de-industrialisation, but the UK does not have a clear and credible plan to continue to reduce GHG emissions. Recent projections show the UK is set to miss its legally binding carbon budgets for 2028 – 2032 by as much as 20%, according to the new energy and emissions projections. The report confirms that:

  • 2040 is too late for the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars
  • There is no serious plan for decarbonising heating
  • There are no large-scale carbon capture and storage projects in the UK, which is crucial to the delivery of net-zero GHG emissions
  • Afforestation targets are not being delivered in the UK (currently at less than 10,000 hectares over a year against a target of 20,000)

How will we achieve net-zero by 2050?

Falls in the cost of key technologies permit net-zero within the very same costs that were accepted as the likely costs by Parliament in 2008 when it legislated the present 2050 target. Annual resource cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to 2050, the same cost as the previous expectation for an 80% reduction from 1990. The report provided a helpful roadmap to show the key steps the UK will need to take over the next 20 – 30 years.


Source: CCC analysis. Notes: CCS = carbon capture and storage. EV = electric vehicle. BECCS = bioenergy with CCS.

What your company can do now:

  • Commit to being net-zero well before 2050, ideally by 2040
  • Set a science-based target consistent with 1.5 degrees that cover Scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions, and get this approved by the SBTi
  • Move to zero-carbon in your own operations (Scope 1 & 2), without the use of offsets, as fast as possible
  • Work with your supply chain and customers to reduce GHG emissions across your value chain (Scope 3)

If you want to know how we can help your company on its sustainability journey and step up to become an industry-leading in responding to the climate emergency then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team on [email protected]