The UK is the first major economy and G7 country to adopt the target following the CCC’s May 2019 recommendation.

By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green

Adoption of 2050 Net-Zero Target

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that the UK government will adopt the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC’s) recommended net-zero target by 2050, and will formalize that adoption through legislation. The new target supersedes the 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction by 2050 target, contained in the Climate Change Act 2008. The Climate Change Act 2008 will be amended to incorporate the new net-zero target via statutory instrument, which has already been laid before Parliament.

The UK is the first major economy, and the first of the G7 group, to adopt a net-zero target, under which GHG emissions must be balanced by initiatives such as improved use of renewable energy, tree planting, carbon capture and storage technologies, and carbon offset schemes. The CCC’s recommended target is considered to be one of the toughest climate change targets in the world.

Committee on Climate Change Recommendation

The CCC issued the recommendation for the UK government to commit to cutting GHG emissions to a net-zero target by 2050 in order to help meet commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This prior Latham post explores the recommendation, including some of the measures and transitional arrangements that would be required to meet this target, as well as observations regarding the UK government’s possible adoption of the recommendation.

Next Steps

The UK government has suggested that it will review progress under the new target within a five-year period. A review may lead to a target adjustment in the event that no other major economy joins the UK in implementing such a robust target. Prime Minister May stated that the “UK led the world to wealth through fossil fuels in the industrial revolution” so it is “appropriate that Britain lead in the opposite direction.”[i]

Other European developments include France proposing — but not yet adopting — a net-zero emissions target in February 2019, and countries such as Finland and Norway proposing net-zero by 2035 and 2030, respectively. Norway’s plan allows for the purchase of carbon offsets, and Prime Minister May has followed this approach by rejecting the CCC’s advice on achieving the 2050 target without reliance upon international carbon credits.

Lord Deben, the CCC chairman, stated that setting the target was “the first step,” which must “be reinforced by credible UK policies.”[ii] Carolyn Fairbairn, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, stated that the commitment could “drive UK competitiveness and secure long-term prosperity.”[iii]

Latham & Watkins will continue to monitor developments in this area.

This post was prepared with the assistance of Martin Cassidy in the London office of Latham & Watkins.