The UK is to review its long-term target to cut climate emissions as part of global efforts to curb rising temperatures, the UK Government has announced.
The announcement raises the possibility the UK could implement a target to reduce emissions to “net-zero” by 2050, tightening the existing goal to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by that date.
Experts said the pledge by Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), made the UK the first major developed economy to commit to examining how it will meet global climate goals.
Under the global Paris Agreement, countries have committed to curbing temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to keep them to 1.5C, to prevent dangerous climate change.
Such a move will require the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero in the second half of the century, and the UK Government has previously pledged to enshrine a zero target in law.
After a global scientific review of the impacts of, and action needed to keep to, a 1.5C rise is published this autumn, the UK’s climate advisers will be asked to review the country’s 2050 target, Ms Perry said in a speech on Tuesday.
After the report, she said: “We will be seeking the advice of the UK’s independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets.”
The committee recently suggested the UK would have to meet the net-zero target by 2045-2050 in order to do its bit to ensure global temperature rises do not exceed 1.5C.
A temperature rise of 1.5C is seen by some countries, such as low lying islands at risk of rising sea levels, as the limit beyond which their very existence is threatened.
Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris Agreement and chief executive of the European Climate Foundation, said: “Ten years after the UK pioneered its world-first Climate Change Act, today’s announcement shows that once again it is the British government looking to lead the world on climate change.
“For a safe climate we need all governments to aim for cutting pollution to net zero levels by 2050.
“This decision to review Britain’s long-term climate target sends a strong message to the EU and other big economies that London is committed to the Paris Agreement, and now it’s time they too considered what more they can do.”
The announcement comes as polling of 4,007 people by Opinium for think tank Bright Blue shows almost two thirds (64%) of Britons agree the UK should aim to cut its carbon emissions to net-zero in the next few decades.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the review was extremely important and could provide a “valuable lead” for other countries.
“The data shows that the challenges posed by emissions from transport – land, sea and air – and our reliance on gas for heating will have to be confronted as a matter of urgency.
“Fossil-fuel dependent cars and vans need to be removed from sale by 2030, a step-change in energy efficiency standards in our construction industry should be prioritised, and the Government must accept that no new runway at Heathrow will fit inside our carbon budget,” he added.