UK reasserts net zero plans with submission of updated climate action plan to UN

The UK government has today submitted an updated national climate action plan in support of the Paris Agreement to the United Nations, offering further detail on how it plans to deliver on its crucial 2030 decarbonisation target ahead of the upcoming COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt this autumn.

A national climate plan – or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in UN jargon – is a requirement of all signatories to the Paris Agreement that is designed to encourage countries to accelerate efforts to cut emissions in line with accord’s goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C or ‘well below’ 2C.

At present, decarbonisation commitments made under NDCs fall far short of what scientists agree is required to limit global warming to 1.5C, and countries are therefore under pressure to deliver far more ambitious national climate plans, in particular with more robust near-term emissions reduction targets for 2030.

The UK government had already submitted an NDC with fresh decarbonisation targets for 2030 ahead of last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, committing the UK to slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade.

But the Glasgow Climate Pact, which was agreed by almost 200 countries after mammoth, fraught negotiations at COP26, sets out expectations that nations should revisit their NDCs once again in 2022 ahead of the COP27 Summit to try and bring them into line with a 1.5C warming trajectory.

Today’s submission of an updated NDC therefore fulfils that task for the UK, and means the climate plan can be included in the UN’s forthcoming annual assessment of action plans underpinning the Paris Agreement which is expected to be published next month to help inform talks at COP27.

Announcing the UK’s revised NDC in a statement to Parliament yesterday, Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility Lord Callanan claimed the UK’s national climate plan set out a “fair and ambitious contribution to global action on climate change”.

“In revisiting the UK NDC, the Government considered a range of factors including the latest available science, expectations in the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact, the UK’s existing 2050 net zero commitment, and energy security, as well as advice and evidence from the Climate Change Committee and other independent commentators,” he said.

Lord Callanan explained the NDC had been strengthened in several key areas, namely clarifying “more fully” how the UK plans to meet its 2030 decarbonisation target, and explaining in more detail how UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies are included in the plan.

Moreover, he said the new NDC now includes “more detail on levelling up, gender, green skills, public engagement, Just Transition and how the UK is supporting other countries with delivery of their NDCs”.

“The UK’s NDC requires the fastest rate of reduction in greenhouse gases between 1990 and 2030 of any major economy and is on a trajectory to net zero by 2050,” Lord Callanan said. “The government is committed to net zero by 2050 and looks forward to the review led by Chris Skidmore to ensure that it is delivered in a way that is pro-business and pro-growth.”

Back in June, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said in its annual UK progress report to Parliament that the current NDC was “ambitious and consistent with the Paris Agreement”, and if achieved would deliver a 55 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2030, excluding international aviation.

That would deliver a deeper level of decarbonisation than the global average of a 45 per cent cut over the same period that scientists estimate is required to keep the world on a 1.5C trajectory, the CCC said.

To get there, however, requires the UK to deliver “earlier, faster deployment of low carbon solutions” than it would under a global 1.5C trajectory this decade, the CCC said, and it continues to harbour significant concerns about the gaps in delivery and policy underpinning the government’s Net Zero Strategy.

The government was due to respond to the CCC’s latest progress report by the end of this year, but in an unusual move yesterday it published a statutory instrument to push back its legal obligation to respond to the end of March next year, giving it another six months to consider its response.

The new deadline of 31 March 2023 coincides with the deadline set by the High Court for the government to submit a revised version of its Net Zero Strategy, which the court had ruled was unlawful under the Climate Change Act as it does not sufficiently detail how targets will be met.

As a result, the government looks set to publish not only its detailed response to the CCC’s net zero progress report assessment, but also a new, more detailed Net Zero Strategy, ahead of 31 March next year.

Environmental groups and green businesses and investors will be watching closely to see how the government plans to square its commitment to the UK’s net zero targets with the controversial plans announced this week to deliver new fracking and North Sea oil and gas projects.

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