It’s been a busy week in the news. It would be easy to miss the story of Britain’s sixth carbon budget, which was announced yesterday and promptly lost in the shouting about football. To summarise, the British government has declared a new intermediate climate target. The ultimate aim is net zero by 2050. Intermediate targets help to keep that on track, and the government has declared a 78% cut by 2035.
This is significant for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s the target they were advised to set by their experts at the Climate Change Committee. They have listened and that doesn’t always happen.
Secondly, the target includes shipping and aviation for the first time. That’s a significant change, and one that opens up new possibilities for some stubborn sectors of the economy.
And third, 78% is really quite ambitious. Boris Johnson’s government are keen to stress that it’s the “world’s most ambitious climate change target”, but the government claim world-leading status for everything they ever do, which makes me sceptical. However, I can’t think of a more aggressive target than that off the top of my head. This time they might actually be right.
Of course, it’s easier to set targets than to deliver them. The UK as a whole isn’t on track to deliver its old climate targets, let alone the shiny new ones (though Scotland is ahead of the game.) We also have COP26 to host later this year, and we need to look like we’re leading the way. But remember, it was only a few years ago that Conservative Party back-benchers were agitating to bin climate targets altogether, and Theresa May was abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change. A lot has happened in a short amount of time.
It’s also true that targets are not filtering down to policy making just yet. In recent weeks we’ve had the government reduce electric car incentives and freeze fuel duty (again), abandon a flagship renovation project in the Green Homes Grant, and announce £27 billion for new roads. Appeals are still out on a new coal mine. There is a live discussion on lifting Air Passenger Duty to encourage more domestic aviation. These are not good signs, but as I just said, a lot can happen in a short amount of time.
Despite the caveats and the disappointment of those who want even more radical action, this week’s announcement is firmly in the good news column. A target like this is a tool of accountability, something to raise in objection to airport expansions and new fossil fuel projects, and to inspire bolder policy making to actually start to deliver those emissions cuts.