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UK Government announces higher emissions target: what does that mean?

Jordan O'Brien

Jordan O'Brien

Contributing Editor
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The UK Government has announced an increase in its target for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, with the country now aiming for at least a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030. 

Previously the UK Government was targeting a 53% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but it has realised that its goal of achieving net zero by 2050 meant that it could go further in its emissions reduction. 

This new target is notable, not only because it’s the first time the UK has set a target following its departure from the EU, but also because it’s one of the most ambitious targets set by a major economy. 

The target is a key part of the Paris Climate Agreement, with each country around the globe setting a nationally determined contribution (NDC) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Previously, the UK shared its target with the rest of the European Union, although now it’s formally left the bloc, the country will have to update its own target every five years. 

What does the new target mean? 

The 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 is not a reduction compared to today’s levels, but those of 1990. The increase in the target means that the UK needs to work even harder to ensure that it cuts greenhouse gas emissions, although many believe that the UK will be able to comfortably achieve the new target. 

In fact, many have wondered why the UK Government didn’t go further. There were rumours early on in the process that the target would be upped to 69%, although clearly that was dropped. 

But what does the new target actually mean? Well, it means that the UK will have to find ways to cut its greenhouse emissions by 68% when compared to 1990. There are several levers in which it can do this. It can invest in renewable energy, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and make buildings more energy efficient. These are all on the current agenda, and should go some way to contributing to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 

One thing not on the agenda is the controversial practice of offsetting. This is where a country invests in carbon reduction initiatives in developing countries, whether it’s planting trees or new solar farms. While this is obviously beneficial, the countries then go and use those initiatives as proof of how they’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions, even though they’ve not changed at home. The UK has agreed to not partake in such practices to reach its own reduction targets.

Despite the promise to ditch offsetting, the UK will continue to exclude aviation and shipping from its carbon reduction targets. It’s argued that these two sectors are incredibly difficult to regulate when it comes to carbon reduction, and thus should not be counted as part of the target. This has irked many climate campaigners.

Why has the Government upped the emissions reduction target?

Like every signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement, countries are required to update their NDCs every five years. The deadline for updating the 2020 target is December 31, and while many countries have already submitted their revised targets, there are some big names that we’re still waiting for.

One such group that we’re waiting for is the European Union, which is reportedly planning a reduction of at least 55%. That’s disappointed some climate campaigners, with the European Union’s progress thus far ranked as ‘insufficient’ by Climate Action Tracker. It will certainly beat other major economies, however. The US will not be submitting a target since it left the Paris Climate Agreement under President Donald J Trump, although it will likely have to share a new target when it rejoins under President-Elect Joseph Biden. 

For the UK’s part, it made the decision to make the announcement today for one key reason – COP26. The UK will be co-hosting the Climate Ambition Summit on December 12, which will coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. The summit calls on countries around the world to submit ambitious NDCs or other climate plans as we head towards the UN COP26 climate talks, which the UK government is hosting in Glasgow next year.

Will we meet the new target?

The UK will need to continue its existing carbon reduction strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy and ditching fossil fuelled vehicles, as well as implement new technologies as they become available if it has any hope of reaching the new target.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes that meeting the target will be easy under his ‘Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution’. He noted, “We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process – uniting businesses, academics, NGOs and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change.

“Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030, faster than any major economy, with our Ten Point Plan helping us on our path to reach it.

“But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders as part of next week’s Climate Ambition Summit to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero targets.”

Critics have argued that Johnson’s plan doesn’t go far enough, with billions of pounds worth of infrastructure spending likely to cause an increase in emissions, negating any savings. Opposition members have also called for increased regulation on the building of new houses to ensure they’re contributing to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

What does the electrical industry need to do?

The electrical industry will play a pivotal role in meeting this new, more ambitious target. The sector is responsible for many of the carbon-cutting measures that need to be implemented, such as the installation of solar panels and wind farms. 

The sector is also uniquely placed to help businesses and consumers with their own carbon-cutting measures. For example, electricians could advise homeowners on ditching gas boilers in favour of heat pumps, while businesses could be persuaded to install smart building technology to ensure that they’re not wasting energy pointlessly. 

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