The race to net zero – accelerating the UK’s net-zero target with a new interim plan for 2035

The race to net zero – accelerating the UK’s net-zero target with a new interim plan for 2035
21 April 2021

The race to net zero – accelerating the UK’s net-zero target with a new interim plan for 2035

On 20 April 2021, the UK Government announced an acceleration of the decarbonisation plan set out in the Climate Change Act. This Act, set out in 2008 and amended in 2019, stated ambitions for the UK to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050. It is important to note that this ambition has not changed with the recent announcement. Instead, the Government is introducing an interim measure with the aim of driving earlier action. The new interim target tasks organisations to achieve a 78% reduction in emissions (against the 1990 baseline) by 2035 .

So why has this change happened?

Likely explanations include:

  • By pushing industry to take earlier action, it will reduce the total accumulated emissions. Any emissions that are reduced now will stay reduced for future years, ensuring faster and more assured meeting of the 2050 net-zero target.
  • Attempting to lessen the impact of the worst effects of climate change.
  • The UK positioning itself in a leading role ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which the UK is hosting in Glasgow between 1 November and 12 November 2021.

What does this mean for UK industry?

In summary, this acceleration plan means that the UK will need to achieve almost the level of emissions reduction set out in the original Climate Change Act 2008 targets (80% reduction by 2050 against a 1990 baseline) 15 years ahead of that plan. However, as previously mentioned, this Act was amended in 2019, which set a target of achieving net zero (against a 1990 baseline) by 2050.

As depicted in the graph below, this new announcement means that, compared to a linear decrease in emissions between the 2020 and 2050 targets set out in 2019, the UK will need to be 5 years ahead of plan by 2035 (that is, the level of reduction now targeted for 2035 is equivalent to what was originally expected by 2040).

The acceleration plan brings the UK targets closer to the Scottish Government’s targets. However, the latter still aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2045.

Another very significant impact is that emissions from international aviation and shipping are now included within the 2035 target. Previous declarations, such as the National Declared Contribution towards the Paris Agreement which set a target for reducing emissions by 68% by 2030, had not included international aviation and shipping. This could have a significant impact on sectors which rely on aviation and nautical travel. Therefore, a review of current decarbonisation roadmaps, factoring in international aviation and shipping if not already done so, is advised.

How does the latest UK Government decarbonisation plan affect you and your organisation?

Fortunately, there are only a few questions that you will need to ask yourself:

If you have landed on ‘It’s time to act!’, then you don’t need to panic. At Ricardo, we have successfully developed numerous net-zero plans, strategies and roadmaps for organisations across many different sectors and scales – and we can do the same for you. The earlier you start to reduce your emissions, the more likely you are to hit the targets and to meet the expectations of your investors, suppliers, customers and staff.

To learn more about how you can make and achieve meaningful net-zero commitments:
•    Watch our ‘Achieving net zero’ webinar series on demand.
•    Visit our net-zero webpages.
•    Contact us (using the form on this page) to discuss making or reviewing an actionable net-zero plan.