The UK and Climate Change

The Climate Change Act

When the UK’s parliament passed the Climate Change Act 2008, it became the first country to set legally binding targets for emissions reductions, and a roadmap to achieve it. The Act set an initial target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, later updated to our current Net Zero goal. It also established the independent Committee on Climate Change, which produces everything from Climate Change Risk Assessments, identifying areas such as flood mitigation which will be crucial to the UKs adaptation, to 5-yearly, legally binding, carbon budgets determining emissions reductions over the coming 5 years.

Mandatory Carbon Pricing in the UK

The UK has carbon pricing in place for certain larger installations, like power stations and industrial plants. These are covered by the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and a UK-specific carbon price floor, set to £18 per tonne of CO2e. The price floor was introduced in 2013 in order to counter the low prices in the EU ETS and to incentivise investment in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

However, carbon pricing in the UK might see some significant changes as we leave the EU at the start of 2021. The government is considering both a UK ETS and a carbon tax. While there are advantages and disadvantages to both options, a strong carbon price will be needed to continue to drive emissions reductions towards Net Zero.

UK Emissions Over Time

The UK has reduced its emissions drastically over the last couple of decades, with emissions currently at only 46% of 1990 levels, in part thanks to carbon pricing and the EU ETS. However, other policy decisions have supported this move, including government support for renewables and legislation phasing out coal fired power plants completely by 2025.

To reach Net Zero by 2050, the downward trend in emissions needs to continue, and we need to recapture and offset our unavoidable emissions. As a business or an individual, there are many things you can do to reduce your own climate footprint. Reducing your footprint should always come first, before offsetting. But for the unavoidable emissions that will inevitably remain, there are natural climate solutions that can be supported right here in the UK. These include woodland creation and peatland restoration, which provide a whole host of ancillary benefits beyond carbon capture and storage.