Reduce UK emissions by 78% by 2035 to meet net zero, says government climate advisors.

Energy & Climate Change, Management & Regulation

Reduce UK emissions by 78% by 2035 to meet net zero, says government climate advisors.

Publishing their advice on the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have determined the amount of greenhouse gases the UK can emit during the years 2033 to 2037. The government have until June 2021 to accept the advice. The budget lays out a roadmap for achieving the government’s legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2050. The recommended pathway requires a 78% reduction in UK emissions by 2035, in effect bringing forward the UK’s previous 80% target forward by 15 years.

The CCC advises that this can be met through four key steps:

  • Take up of low-carbon solutions – all new cars and vans, and all boiler replacements to be low carbon by 2030.
  • Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies – UK electricity production to be zero carbon by 2035, through expansion of offshore wind, and scaling up of low-carbon hydrogen. Hydrogen to be used for fuel in shipping and transport, and in some buildings as a replacement for natural gas heating.
  • Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities – energy efficiency to be improved through a national programme to improve insulation. Diet change should be encouraged, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030. Demand for flights to grow more slowly and car use reduced.
  • Land and greenhouse gas removals – agriculture and farmland use to be transformed whilst maintaining the same levels of food per head produced. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland to be planted, and 260,000 hectares of farmland shifted to produce energy crops. Woodland coverage to rise from 13% of UK today to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050, and peatlands widely restored and managed sustainably.

This follows the government’s recent commitment to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 68% by 2030 compared to the 1990 baseline, a target in line with CCC advice. This will form the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Setting an NDC target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is a requirement of every country signed up to the Paris Agreement. The new NDC is a step up in ambition from that previously set in 2015 of 53% reduction from the baseline, when the UK’s targets were part of a wider EU plan.

Green groups have called for climate targets to be met without the use of offsets – the purchasing of carbon credits from abroad – so it’s welcome news that the government has pledged to meet the NDC target of 68% reduction with only domestic action from the UK.

Ahead of the UK hosting next year’s COP26 conference, viewed by many as the last chance to keep global temperature rise below 2oC as set out in the Paris Agreement, the government is clearly keen to demonstrate climate leadership on the global stage.

What next?

The ambition has been made clear, and an example set to other major economies. But targets themselves aren’t enough. The UK is not currently on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets covering 2023 to 2033, so without putting into place a detailed set of policies and measures to meet targets, it’s unlikely that the 2030 target or the sixth carbon budget and roadmap laid out by the CCC will be met either. Previous carbon budgets have largely been met through the decarbonising the power and waste sectors, whilst emissions from transport have remained flat. This is where things start to get a bit more testing.

The recently published Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is a partial plan but doesn’t provide the detailed policy pledges needed to “eradicate the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050”, and was criticised for repackaging existing policies and existing spending commitments. Real climate leadership requires significant investment in the measures in this plan and demonstrating tangible progress in putting in place policies to meet forthcoming carbon budgets.

High priorities for the UK for the next few years include decarbonising homes through a widespread energy efficiency and low carbon heating programme, and the forthcoming Energy White Paper must set out a strategy for boosting renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen.

Crucially, both the NDC and the carbon budgets do not include emissions from shipping and aviation, two of the most complicated industries to decarbonise and regulate.

What about adaptation?

Adaptation is one of the government’s stated priorities for COP26 – it must not be forgotten about on the road to net zero. Even if all of the ambitious climate targets are met, the UK will still feel the sharp impacts of climate change beyond those which are already being felt today. Adaptation and resilience must be built into policymaking across government to deliver a holistic plan for climate action in the UK.

There will be many cases where action to decarbonise can also be delivered in a way which helps adapt and build resilience. These win-wins must be identified and prioritised within the plans that must follow these targets.

By Heather Gardner, Senior Policy Adviser - CIWEM

Contact Heather at

Share this article

Become a member

Whether you are studying, actively looking to progress your career, or already extensively experienced, our membership will add value and recognition to your achievements. We can actively help you progress throughout your career.

Become a member

View our events

We organise a wide portfolio of UK and international thought leading events, providing an industry recognised forum for debate, CPD and sector networking. These events also support our policy work and inform key initiatives.

View our events