UK plans deeper carbon cuts to spur climate change fight

Britain, already world leader in offshore wind and now-forerunner in using central bank power to achieve green aims, is now raising the ambition level of its climate commitments and targets an almost 80-percent net reduction on domestic carbon pollution in a move also meant to stimulate similar policies around the world.

Photo: Jessica Taylor/VIA REUTERS / X80001

UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson is preparing to announce deeper carbon cuts this week as he aims to spur global momentum in the fight against climate change, three people familiar with the matter said.

The government will adopt a target of cutting carbon emissions by 78 percent from 1990 levels by 2035, in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, according to the people, who declined to be named talking about plans that aren’t yet public. The Financial Times reported the proposal first.

Johnson is aiming to show leadership on the matter as the UK prepares to host a round of United Nations climate talks in Glasgow in November. The move is significant because it builds on the UK’s already ambitious target announced just last year to cut emissions by 68 percent in the four decades through 2030 -- the deepest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the Group of 20 nations. That goal remains in place.

The targets are due to be announced during the week of a major climate summit being held at the White House, in which President Joe Biden is seeking to convince other countries to step up their ambition on cutting emissions. Biden is also expected to announce his own target for the US to cut greenhouse gases by at least 50 percent compared to 2005 levels.

“Ahead of a summit sure to be peppered with eye-catching climate announcements from world leaders later this week, it looks like Boris Johnson will make the boldest pledge of all,” said Rebecca Newsom, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics. “This major shift in gear from the government makes destructive projects like new road building and airport expansion even harder to justify.”

The target marks a key point in the UK’s ultimate aim to cut emissions to net zero by 2050. Johnson wants to push as many countries as possible to adopt the same goal of eliminating net emissions by mid-century, as the world seeks to limit warming since pre-industrial times to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that level, UN scientists see a greater risk of species extinctions and increases in sea levels that threaten coastal communities.

Recent measures

Johnson has outlined a series of measures in recent months aimed at protecting the climate, including banning the sale of non-electric by 2030. The government has also backed investment in electric vehicles, hydrogen, wind and nuclear power.

The new target would be in line with the latest advice from the CCC, which in December recommended a “carbon budget” for the UK that included that level of reduction by 2035. Crucially, that recommendation included emissions from aviation and shipping.

Under the UK Climate Change Act, governments are required to bring down emissions through a succession of five-year “carbon budgets” setting out how much carbon the country can emit in that period.

“Setting an ambitious emission reduction target would boost the UK’s diplomatic drive to persuade other countries to set out ambitious targets of their own,” Ed Matthew, campaigns director for the climate change think tank E3G, said in a statement. “The UK now has the opportunity to spark a global green industrial revolution but ultimately its credibility will rest on action.”

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