We’ve got some good news to thank God for. This week the UK announced their new climate target - they’re going to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 78% from 1990-2035. It will be legally binding. It includes the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping for the first time, which is particularly good. It’s all based on the advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change, and it’s brilliant.
But of course the UK is a very long way from meeting this target. They probably don’t know how they’re going to. Most of the plans aren’t ready yet. They may even think 2035 is too far away for them to need to deliver. But they’re promising the right thing, and that’s welcome.
The UK is the 17th biggest emitter, so what they do has a global impact, plus they were the first country to industrialise and accidentally get us all into this mess; and this year they host the COP climate talks, so symbolically this matters even more.
Global danceThere’s a dance going on, with countries getting into step and moving faster to cut emissions and, we hope, agreeing to do even more at COP in November. How far will they get?
Last year the EU set a new target to cut emissions by 55% from 1990 to 2030, and net zero by 2050. Then China set a new target to reach net zero by 2060 - this is a very big deal because China is the world’s biggest polluter, and they’ve never set a target like this before - even though anything after 2050 is too late. That persuaded Japan and South Korea, the 6th and 11th biggest emitters, to set net zero by 2050 targets.
This year the new US President promised climate action, which is vital as the US is the second biggest polluter. He invited 40 rich and polluting countries to a climate summit on 22 and 23 April. We hope and expect new announcements from the US and others around that summit, each one encouraging the others to go further, with this UK target setting a great example to start with. But what will they be, and will they drive action in the next decade when it’s most needed? Will China go further? Who else will make a pledge? Will Scotland get ahead of the rest of the UK again? Who will be the third country to actually reach net zero, alongside Surname and Bhutan who have already? Please pray for leaders to remember the people being hit by droughts, floods, fires, and storms, losing food, homes and incomes as the climate changes.
Of course the right targets don’t mean much without action, but the action is much more likely if the right targets are in place, and more likely still if people constantly remind their governments what they’ve promised and how urgent it is to act.
Can the UK keep this promise?
Practically the UK has done an excellent job closing coal power stations in the last few years, moving from dirty coal generating over half their electricity, to burning hardly any, and that’s powered a rapid fall in emissions, even as the economy’s grown. The UK’s not done much else though, and the coal power’s nearly all gone, so getting down to 78% by 2035 will need a huge and focused national effort.
At the moment though the government is doing 5 things that go in exactly the opposite direction.
- Planning a new coal mine. Earlier this year Cumbria council gave permission for a coal company to start a new mine. The government let it go ahead. That’s embarrassing for the COP hosts, they can’t be global climate leaders if they start digging new coal mines, and nor can they hit the new 2035 target. Under pressure, they’ve now paused it and will decide later this year whether to permit the mine.
- Cutting the aid budget. Money is a big issue in climate negotiations, as richer countries have caused most of the damage and poorer countries have had most of the damage so far (though poorer communities in many richer countries are feeling the pinch too). Richer countries have promised to pay $100 billion a year to assist poorer countries adapting and developing in cleaner ways, but not all of it’s arrived, the poorest countries have had a very small share of it, and anyway it doesn’t match the scale of the damage. The UK have reduced their aid budget just when Covid and climate change make it most needed - it’s a terrible example they should reverse.
- Not improving homes. Britain is quite chilly, and so are many British homes, badly insulated, cold, and expensive to heat using natural gas. Insulating them better saves fuel and emissions and helps people stay warmer and healthier in winter, besides creating many jobs all around the country to help replace the jobs lost in the pandemic. The government had a Green Homes Grant to help people with money to improve their homes - it was too complicated and wasn’t working well, but it was better than nothing. However instead of improving it, the government suddenly closed most of it.
- Electric cars are a good way to cut emissions from transport, which is where the biggest chunk of the UK’s emissions come from. Cleaner air saves lives too. So far this year more than one in ten new British cars have a plug, which is good progress. But the government have just reduced the subsidy they give to make electric cars cheaper to buy, which will slow this down again just when it was working. The 2035 target will need them to aim higher and invest more again.
- Bailing out aviation. The UK’s pandemic recovery support has included money for aviation, mostly without any climate conditions, and the government are considering cutting air passenger taxes to encourage people to fly more. This will have to change. Apparently Brits fly abroad more than people from any other country.