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UK accelerates plans to cut carbon emissions

The UK plans to set a legally binding 78% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target (on 1990 levels) through its Sixth Carbon Budget.

Just two years ago, the UK was targeting 80% emissions reduction by 2050. It now intends to reach almost the same point a full 15 years earlier. With the U.S. government's Earth Day climate summit scheduled for later this week and with COP26 in Glasgow only seven months away, the UK is keen to reaffirm its position as a leader in the global fight to tackle climate change. Importantly, for the first time, this target will incorporate the UK's contribution to emissions from international aviation and shipping – two sectors that will be particularly challenging to decarbonise.

Demonstrating leadership on this issue is crucial. Holding the presidency of the most important global climate summit since Paris in 2015 means the UK will play an important role in delivering an ambitious agreement in Glasgow later this year. A key goal in the run-up to COP26 is encouraging more countries to set ambitious interim emissions targets, rather than just long-term net-zero goals. Due to a rapidly growing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, the pace of decarbonisation is as important as the end goal. By setting itself such a challenging target for 2035 (alongside its existing 68% target for 2030), the UK will hope others will follow suit.

As ever, when it comes to the thorny issue of exactly how to deliver rapid decarbonisation – and, ultimately, net-zero emissions – the devil is in the detail. So far, the UK's approach has been full of lofty ambition and lacking in specific policy measures that will drive the necessary changes in investment and consumer behaviour. A lot of progress has been made in the power sector, as renewables have grown and coal's contribution to electricity supply has almost come to an end.

CO2 emissions from power have fallen by two thirds since 2010. Beyond the power sector, however, it's a mixed bag. Some policy announcements, like the phase-out of new ICE passenger car sales from 2030, provide welcome clarity. Others, such as the short-lived Green Homes Grant, leave more questions than answers. If the UK government is serious about meeting its targets, the time has come to provide investors and consumers with the certainty and support they need to really kick-start the decarbonisation of the buildings sector, transport and industry."

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