Is The UK On Track For Its 2050 Net-Zero Goal?

With ‘net-zero’ a term often in the news and a seemingly far-off target of 2050, it’s easy to feel conflicted about the UK’s goal. What’s more, the exact details of the goal, why we are striving for it, and if it’s even possible are all topics of conflict and confusion. That’s why we’re taking a deep dive into the UK’s proposed ‘net-zero’ target for 2050, and work out if it’s even possible.

What is the net-zero goal?

Multiple UN countries – including the UK – decided on a ‘net-zero’ goal . The aim is that carbon emissions (a harmful gas produced by burning fossil fuels) will reach a low enough level where they can be balanced out by natural absorption. This is done via trees and other naturally occurring storage procedures. This means that the level of carbon will reach zero – produced and balanced in equal amounts.

In June 2019, the target of 2050 was officially set. This was set in line with the findings in the IPCC’s Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C. This report makes it clear that net-zero must be achieved to keep global warming below 1.5. If global warming rises above this level, we risk melting the arctic permafrost, which would release millions of years of greenhouse gasses and destroy our climate. Meanwhile, floods and fires will become more frequent and severe, costing more and more lives.

What needs to happen for the UK to reach net-zero?

To reach net-zero by 2050, there must be an overall reduction in the burning of fossil fuels and creation of greenhouse gases.  These come from:

Pie chart graph showing which sectors of the UK economy produce the most carbon emissions

*Remaining sectors refers to fuel supply, waste and the land use, land use change and forestry.

In order to reach net-zero, the production of emissions in all these areas must be reduced as much as possible!

What is the UK’s commitment to the goal?

The UK has a bulk of previous and current policies in place in order to reach their target. Much of this stems from the Net Zero Strategy (Build Back Greener) document, which outlines proposals to decarbonise the UK economy. The key proposals were;

  1. Ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030
  2. Powering the UK entirely by clean electricity by 2035
  3. 10% of the fuels used by airlines by 2030 will be sustainable
  4. Installing no new gas boilers from 2035
  5. Supporting greener farming
  6. Improving greenhouse gas removals

Talking about the UK’s net-zero goal becomes a muddled picture due to a series of policy U-turns and talks still in development. In order to understand where the UK is currently positioned, it’s important to know what policies are in place. In September 2023, a number of key changes were made to the UK’s net-zero policy:

  1. The governmnet pushed back the deadline for selling new petrol and diesel cars. This ban was originally in place for 2030. Now, the ban is in place for 2025.
  2. The government altered the policy around banning the sale of new gas boilers. People will only have to replace their boiler in 2035 with a more efficient model if they are replacing it anyway. No one will have to make the swap – meaning boilers will continue to be in use for many years to come.

Is the UK on track for the deadline?

This is a tricky question to answer, and it’s worth noting that policy changes and U-turns can happen at any point in time.

The government had announced several climate change targets, which have since been revised and altered. In the last few weeks, for example, Scotland revised its goal of reaching net-zero. This just goes to show that climate and energy policy is unpredictable and always subject to changes! 

Unfortunately, with current progress and policy, the goal of achieving net-zero by 2050 appears out of reach. To achieve this goal, there would have to be significant changes, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC). In particular, the production of fossil fuels is “not in line with net-zero”.

But it’s not all bad news – the UK is exceeding in some of targets. In 2023,  16.5% of new car sales were of vehicles with electric batteries, putting it in good stead for the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles. There are plans to reduce emissions across all modes of transport, including the plan to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040. However, it’s still unclear how this will be achieved.

There are positive signs in other areas too. The goal of 10% sustainable fuel in the aviation industry by 2030 has been reinforced. 

The clean electricity goal remains in place, with the target of achieving 95% clean power in 2030. In 2023, about 47% of electricity was generated by renewables, such as wind and solar, showing clear progress.

Although there has been the pushback in the ban of new petrol and diesel cars, electric cars – an environmentally friendly alternative, have become increasingly popular. In 2023, 16.5% of new car sales were battery electric vehicles – up from less than 2% in 2019.

In February 2023, the government released details of its environmental land management schemes for England, replacing the EU common agricultural policy. The schemes mean farmers can apply for public money to support activities that benefit the environment.

The verdict? The UK is certainly making progress to achieve its net-zero goal. Whether we achieve it by 2050 will depend on if we see more delays in government policy, which could mean net-zero isn’t achieved as fast as hoped.

How you can help

Achieving net-zero will be a nationwide effort across all sectors of the UK – including our homes. Traditional heating systems are often highly inefficient, bad for the environment, and expensive to run. Switching your system to a more efficient method means less waste, as well as cheaper bills. Plus, the government has several schemes to help you. These schemes include support for free insulation, solar panels, and a heat pump. There’s also funding available for insulation and hybrid boilers. The following schemes are also open to UK homeowners:

ECO 4 Scheme. If you qualify for this scheme, you can have solar panels, insulation, and an air source heat pump installed for free.

Boiler Upgrade Scheme. This grant provides money to help cover the cost of upgrading and replacing your boiler to a more efficient system. You could get up to £7,500 to upgrade your boiler to a heat pump. Alternatively, you could receive £5,000 to upgrade to a biomass boiler.

Great British Insulation Scheme. Homeowners in England, Scotland, and Wales can receive funding for insulation measures with this scheme, making it cheaper to heat your home.

Home Upgrade Grant. Under this scheme, Local Authorities can cover the cost of installation for a range of home improvements, all designed to improve your home’s efficiency and cut your energy costs.

You can check your eligibility for these in just 30 seconds, by answering the questions below!

Ceri Jones
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