The United Kingdom will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 68% from 1990 levels by 2030, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today, a plan he said would put the country on track for net-zero emissions by 2050 and represent the fastest rate of GHG reductions of any major economy.
However, an analysis from the London-based Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) earlier this month warned that most of the improvement from the UK’s previous legislated target of 57% by 2030 (the government calculates it at 53% in today’s release) would be needed just to account for changes in the way the country accounts for its emissions post-Brexit, and for new methods of measuring peatland and methane emissions.
“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,” Johnson said in a release. “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.”
The UK government release this morning includes testimonials from nearly a dozen major corporations, including Anglian Water, Equinor, Coca-Cola European Partners, Tesco, and ScottishPower.
Earlier this week, Bloomberg Green said the UK was considering a 2030 target in the 65-69% range, and would likely announce its final decision before Johnson co-hosts the UN ambition summit, where countries are expected to announce their commitments to faster, deeper carbon cuts under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“As host of the next round of global climate change talks that take place in Glasgow next year, Johnson has been seeking to burnish his environmental credentials,” Bloomberg noted. “Last month, he unveiled a 10-point plan to boost green industries that included banning the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030. The blueprint also included funding for hydrogen and carbon capture and storage technology and plans to expand offshore wind power.”
But initial reaction to the 10-point plan cast it as inadequate to set the UK on a course to reach net-zero by 2050. In the run-up to today’s announcement, Greenpeace UK called for a 75% reduction by 2030, while Energy Transitions Commission Chair Adair Turner told Bloomberg the government would have to hit 65 to 70%, while committing to almost completely decarbonize electricity by 2035. “We’ve actually got to get emissions down a lot in the 2020s themselves, because what matters is the stock in the atmosphere” of greenhouse gases, Adair told Bloomberg.
ECIU and other analysts have also been taking a hard look at provisions in the UK’s current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement that exclude emissions from international aviation and shipping. But “the UK’s NDC target does not include international aviation and shipping,” the government release states. “This is in line with common NDC practice. The UK is supportive of multilateral action to tackle international aviation and shipping emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization, and has set out action to reduce emission in aviation and shipping as part of the 10-point plan.”
In his detailed analysis of the 2030 target, ECIU Director Richard Black points to the assumptions and inputs that have changed since the EU adopted the 57% (or 53%) goal for the years between 2028 and 2032. The departure from Brexit means the UK will no longer participate in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)—leading to a change in the process for measuring carbon reductions from major emitters like power plants and factories. New research has also shifted the way emissions are calculated for peatlands, and revealed that methane is more potent a greenhouse gas than scientists previously understood.
The net result, Black says, is that the country would now need a reduction of 64% by 2030, not 57%, to meet its original goal for eliminating actual, physical emissions. Which means a new target in the 65 to 70% range represents a much smaller improvement over the UK’s original Paris goal.
Black’s biggest takeaway is that the context Johnson’s new pledge will be at least as important as the number itself. “The number on its own tells us little,” he says. “We need to know what it includes and how it’s calculated in order to be able to judge the underlying ambition.”
Click here for the rest of the context as Black saw it November 9. (We’ll update this story as he and other UK analysts dig into the details of today’s announcement.)