The UK’s NDC target to cut emissions by at least 68% below 1990 levels by 2030 would bring its domestic emissions pathway in line with a 1.5°C compatible warming limit of the Paris Agreement. Our analysis shows a similar level of emissions reductions (68% below 1990 levels excluding LULUCF) is required for the UK target to be Paris Agreement compatible. This equates to a 2030 emissions level of 251 MtCO₂e.
Under current policies, the UK would miss its current 2030 emissions reduction target, indicating there is a need to strengthen policies across the UK economy. Recent announcements targeting higher renewable energy capacity and a ban on sales of fossil fuel vehicles by 2030 are the kind of interventions needed across other sectors such as industry and buildings. Despite recent announcements targeting these sectors, policies remain insufficient.
Long term pathway
In 2019, the UK legislated its commitment to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050, strengthening its previous 2050 target of an 80% reduction below 1990 levels. While the target does not provide specific details on the level of remaining positive emissions the country would aim for, Paris Agreement agreement compatible pathways show that the country’s remaining emissions should by 2050 be between -57 to 61 MtCO₂e excluding LULUCF but including negative CO₂ emissions (in this case BECCS have been assumed). These emissions will need to be balanced by the deployment of land sinks or other carbon dioxide removal approaches. While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries such as the UK, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier.
The UK’s 2050 net zero target was recently confirmed as including emissions from international shipping or aviation, making the UK a global frontrunner in this regard. The UK target is strengthened at the regional level with Scotland targeting net zero GHG emissions by 2045, and Wales targeting a 90% reduction by 2050 below 1990 levels. Remaining emissions from the agriculture and industry sectors will need to be compensated by carbon dioxide removal technologies such as BECCS and direct air carbon capture (DACC).
A higher penetration of renewable energy would avoid a high reliance on carbon dioxide removals. The two 1.5°C compatible scenarios highlighted in this analysis that do not rely on negative emissions technologies project either a more rapid and widespread deployment of renewable energy technologies (94% share of electricity generation by 2040), or a drastic reduction in overall energy demand (a reduction in primary energy demand of roughly half below 2019 level by 2040). This demonstrates that with urgent investment in, and policy support for, renewable energy deployment and energy efficiency measures, a reliance on these unproven technologies in the future can be avoided.