House of Commons Library

Net zero in the UK

Published Monday, December 16, 2019

This Library briefing provides an explanation of the introduction of the UK's net zero by 2050 legislative target. It provides the context for the emissions reduction target; a brief overview of relevant commentary and analysis of the Government's proposals; and any key announcements and commitments made since.

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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 because some emissions can remain if they are offset by removal from the atmosphere and/or by trading in carbon units. 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 then Prime Minister Theresa May in a Downing Street Press release in June 2019 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

Since passing this legislation, the Government has announced a HM Treasury Net Zero Review. This included a priority to ensure a fair balance of contributions from all those who will benefit, including considering how to reduce costs for low income households. The Review will also consider how to avoid offshoring emissions i.e. how to reduce UK emissions without causing those emissions to be created by another country. A final report is expected in Autumn 2020.

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; David Hirst; Paul Bolton

Topic: Climate change

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