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UK must not carry forward surplus hot air in push for net zero

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published its net zero report, laying out a bold vision for the UK to maintain global leadership in the fight against climate change.

The report has rightly been widely welcomed. But it is essential we recognise that to stay true to this ambition, the UK government does not carry forward surplus emissions this month from previous carbon budgets.

The CCC’s report recommends that the UK becomes climate neutral by 2050, going further than the existing target, set in 2008, of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

The CCC has said the new target must include emissions from aviation too. We are calling for the government to adopt this new target without delay and, in line with the CCC’s recommendations, to commit to meeting it through domestic effort only.

While we also welcome the CCC’s landmark report, ClientEarth has also flagged a potentially significant threat to the UK’s long-term progress on climate, if the UK government decides to carry forward a surplus of carbon emissions in its accounting this month.

More than 380 million tonnes of “hot air” – equivalent to almost a year’s free emissions for the UK – have been included in previous carbon budgets and are due to be cancelled next month, according to the law.

But the UK Government could step in to keep them, despite the fact this would mean diluting our upcoming carbon targets and allowing progress to stall at exactly the moment when it must be ramped up.

We sincerely hope the Government will follow the CCC’s ‘unequivocal’ advice, issued in February, not to carry forward these surplus emissions.

Our climate accountability lawyer Jonathan Church said: “This month brings the risk that government could undermine all our carbon targets – net zero or otherwise – by keeping a vast amount of “hot air” in the Climate Change Act, which would make a mockery of any commitment to keep to a cost-effective path for cutting carbon to 2050.

“As we celebrate what will hopefully become an ambitious commitment to a net zero UK by 2050, we shouldn’t forget that it’s not just the big gestures that count: it’s also being true to those commitments every step of the way. Keeping our targets honest is as important as the targets themselves.”

Following the publication of the CCC report, we hope that the Government will make it a priority to put the 2050 target into law, whilst also acting on other recommendations made in the report to include emissions from aviation and to ensure climate action is embedded at all levels of government.

Jonathan added: “At a time when the urgency of climate change could not be more stark, this report sets out a bold and optimistic future for the UK to be climate neutral by 2050. It is possible and the case is clear: we need to reach net zero emissions within 30 years.

“We now need this net zero by 2050 target to be put in place right away because every month of delay will make achieving it more challenging and less cost-effective in the future.

“In the UK we are lucky to have the Climate Change Act framing our policy on climate change. But the CCC is right to highlight – again – that setting targets does not address climate change. Only meeting targets does that.”

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