climate change politics

Five steps towards Britain’s climate targets

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of discussion about climate change targets in Britain. The government has asked their advisory panel to look into a zero carbon goal for 2050, and the Climate Change Committee delivered their results.

There was some good news in their findings, with the committee suggesting it is possible and affordable. Others see it as unambitious and leaving it too late – Extinction Rebellion are calling for net zero by 2025.

As it stands, we’re not on track for our intermediate targets in 2023 and 2032, let alone 2050. So Britain does need to be more ambitious. We have been coasting on the early win of phasing out coal, with tougher challenges around transport barely attempted so far.

Where to start? The Green Alliance published a briefing last week outlining five policy areas that would get those intermediate targets back on track, and set us up for bolder action. All of them are actually pretty obvious in my opinion, and all of them have multiple benefits that make them ‘no regret’ policies. Let’s get on with it shall we?

1) The first is on that neglected transport sector, and it is to bring the proposed 2040 ban on petrol and diesel cars forward to 2030. This would accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, car sharing, and clean forms of mass transit. It’s not unreasonable either – that 2040 date is woefully unambitious. Most car companies are working quicker than that already. Bringing this forward would also have benefits to air quality and to our dependence on oil imports.

2) Circular economy principles for more efficient materials use would cut emissions and waste together, while saving money and creating new jobs in recycling and remanufacturing. This value would mainly be created in Britain’s industrial areas, potentially helping to reduce regional inequalities.

3) Of all the many things we could be doing to prevent the climate crisis, our failure to pursue home energy efficiency is the most bizarre. Britain’s homes are colder and more expensive to run than they need to be, which affects our health and leaves many in fuel poverty. There would be multiple benefits to a major national efficiency drive that brings our housing stock into the 21st century.

4) Use natural climate solutions such as tree planting, wetland restoration and soil stewardship. The most important sector here would be agriculture, where emissions  have been totally flat for a decade. Better farming practices would improve outcomes for Britain’s wildlife as well as reducing emissions.

5) Support wind and solar power. This should be obvious too, but both are neglected – some might say deliberately held back – by current policy. Wind power is the cheapest form of electricity in Britain today, but is to all intents and purposes banned by a Conservative government that doesn’t like wind turbines. The solar industry has been shot in the knees three times now by sudden shifts in policy. Creating new routes to market for solar and wind power would deliver clean energy at a price we could afford, and help to power clean transport and heating too.

The graphic below shows how the potential carbon savings from these five measures add up to our intermediate climate targets and the goal of net zero by 2050.



  1. I would be concerned about the first one without significant investment in public transport as well. Otherwise people working evening or night shifts, often low paid jobs, would be unable to get to work unless they find money for a new and expensive car – where they would now be able to part exchange for a used one, that market would presumably go with a ban on petrol and diesel cars.

    1. That all depends on how it’s done. With incentives to buy electric now (as there are in Scotland, for example) people who buy new cars are more likely to buy an EV. By the time we get to 2030 there would be a healthy secondhand market. I also imagine there could be some kind of scrappage scheme to encourage older cars to be taken off the roads in favour of low emissions vehicles. I’m depending on the secondhand market for an EV myself, eventually. I don’t have the money to be an early adopter.

      And yes, investment in public transport is still important. Cars have downsides well beyond their climate impact.

  2. I would have thought reducing food waste, like the legislation in France, or any kind of policy that promotes plant-based diets would have a significant impact? I’m presuming food waste in the UK is high as well as over consumption of meat? According to the Drawdown research these are no’s 3 & 4 on their report –

    I’m surprised it didn’t register in this top 5 but I like the recommendations that are there as well!

    1. Good point, though I don’t think this is aiming to be a top five necessarily. It’s five things that the government could do relatively easily to reset the country’s trajectory towards zero carbon.

      Unfortunately, the tabloid hysteria around meat eating would make it almost impossible to do anything official about meat diets at the moment. I really hope the story didn’t reach beyond Britain, but run a search for ‘the sun percy pig’ if you want to see the kind of bizarre attitudes we’d be up against…

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