House of Commons Library

Legislating for net zero

Published Thursday, June 27, 2019

This short Library briefing provides an explanation of the introduction of the UK's net zero by 2050 target. It provides the context for the emissions reduction target and a brief overview of relevant commentary and analysis of the Government's proposals.

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On 12 June 2019 the Government laid the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 by introducing a target for at least a 100% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 1990 levels) in the UK by 2050. This is otherwise known as a net zero target. The draft instrument was subject to the affirmative procedure and was debated and approved by the House of Commons on 24 June 2019; and by the House of Lords on 26 June 2019. The Order came into force on 27 June 2019.

This legislation broadly puts into effect a May 2019 recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change (the independent statutory body set up to monitor and advise on progress towards the UK’s emission targets). However, it diverges from the recommendation that the target be achieved by domestic action only by retaining the ability to use international carbon credits. The new target was announced by the Prime Minister in a Downing Street Press release and was widely welcomed by the Committee on Climate Change and other stakeholders including industry and environmental groups. 

If met, this target would effectively mean that the UK will end its contribution to global emissions by 2050.  Before this amendment, the UK had a long-term emissions reduction target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, set by the Climate Change Act 2008

More information on existing decarbonisation targets and progress against them is available in the House of Commons Library briefing paper on UK Carbon Budgets (20 February 2019). Background on net zero is available in the Library’s October 2018 insight Net zero emissions: A new UK climate change target? 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8590

Authors: Sara Priestley; Louise Smith; Suzanna Hinson

Topic: Climate change

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