UK’s New Climate Targets Welcome, But Routes to Net Zero Need to Be Available to All Nations

22nd April 2021

The UK Government has announced that it will be setting a target to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels in law as part of its sixth Carbon Budget.

The new target represents an increase in ambition relative to the previous target of 68% as it seeks to remain consistent with the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to well below 2°C. The target’s announcement came in advance of the US Leaders’ Summit on Climate convened by President Biden on Earth Day (22 April).

Alex Massie, Principal Consultant here at Eunomia, is calling on the UK Government to ensure that the route it is planning to net zero doesn’t hinder the progress towards net zero of other nations. Alex develops strategies and action plans for clients who have declared a climate emergency and has underlined the need to transform our worldview to combat the climate crisis. He said:

“The UK Government’s announcement that it is increasing its carbon emissions reduction target to 78% by 2035 is a welcome demonstration of ambition in the global challenge to address the climate crisis. Carefully setting ambitious targets is important in focusing minds and preventing complacency in efforts to reduce global carbon emissions, particularly when they are so hard to achieve.

But in setting an ambitious target of this nature, the UK Government should be mindful of how it impacts on other countries’ ability to reduce their own carbon emissions. We await to see the full analysis underpinning the government’s new target, but if it is primarily based on reducing territorial emissions – those produced directly in the UK – then this may lead to a number of negative outcomes in other countries. For example, the current drive to source specific metals required for the shift to electric vehicles is creating negative ecological and emissions outcomes elsewhere. The climate crisis, and indeed the biodiversity crisis, are global threats, and cannot be solved by merely moving the impacts overseas.

To ensure that the UK’s ambitious targets act as a rallying call and not as a hindrance to other countries in their efforts to reach net zero, the government’s upcoming Net Zero Strategy must prioritize a rapid move towards a resource efficient circular economy. A greater emphasis on reducing consumption, extending product lifetimes, reuse, and ensuring very high levels of high-quality recycling has the potential to achieve significant carbon emissions reductions across the world in a way that does not merely shift the problem elsewhere.

It is absolutely vital that all countries move together – there is no point one country achieving net zero if it makes it harder for others to do so. That the UK is prepared to show leadership in efforts to limit global temperature rises is to be commended, but that shouldn’t be the end of the story. Targets must fit into a bigger picture of wholesale systemic change needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and ecological destruction.”

Image courtesy of Russ Quinlan via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)