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Lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our 2050 target for Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions

Last updated 3 years ago

We will lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as advised by the independent Committee on Climate Change.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2019, p.55

Our verdict

  • This policy promises to provide global leadership in combating climate change by delivering on the UK’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • In November 2020 the government announced a Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which was broadly welcomed by green groups. In March 2021, the government intervened to halt plans for the development of a new coal mine in Cumbria. In April 2021, the government committed to enshrining in law a new carbon budget, the “world’s most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels”.  Set against these positive developments, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report in March 2021 which found that “Government lacks a plan for how it will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”, and the annual progress report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) describes the past year as characterised by “uncertainty and delay”.
  • The issues raised in the PAC and CCC reports are significant, and many environmental groups have similar and related concerns. However, with the late intervention to put the Cumbrian coal mine on hold, the new carbon budget laid before Parliament (as recommended by the Climate Change Committee), and a Net Zero strategy promised for delivery before COP26 talks in November 2021, we think the government is at least moving towards a position of global leadership, so this policy is ‘in progress’.

There's always room for debate

We’re serious about providing clear, up-to-date, non-partisan information. We focus on being consistent and fair in how we reach our verdicts, and always explain our reasoning. But there is always room for debate. So if you see it differently, we’d love you to tell us why. Or even better, submit an edit.


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  1. deco354 says:

    I think this may be a bit premature to assign as broken. We should be looking at the UK’s carbon footprint rather than failing this based on a single coking coalmine. While it certainly does undermine the 2050 target it has specifically been given a license that expires in 2049 and is a steel coking coalmine where there aren’t many inexpensive alternatives to coal at this moment.

    It’s a crying shame they didn’t block this but I feel we should be objective and only fail this if the UK’s carbon output is not on track for the 2050 goal or the government outright u-turns on the policy. It’s important to hold the government to account for this and marking this down as failed over one coal mine doesn’t do this in my opinion.

    1. Leon (Admin) says:

      Hi deco354,

      Thanks for your comment, and for presenting it so reasonably – this is an area where passions run high. Here’s some more detail on our thinking.

      The policy promises to achieve one thing, global leadership, by delivering on another, Net Zero, and helpfully includes the method by which it aims to deliver Net Zero, by following the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advice.

      In terms of the spirit of the policy, you make a really good point – they’re aiming for net zero so emission levels are the bottom line. But this administration is not going to be in power in 2050, and that deadline remains distant enough for speculation about future fixes to muddy the water. So definitively holding this government to account for delivering on net zero by 2050 is near impossible (that’s not to say it’s not worth trying, but we don’t have the time or resources to do that argument justice on our site – the link to the Green Alliance’s Net Zero policy tracker report in the Get Involved section alongside this policy verdict does a better job of that).

      The other two parts of the policy are attainable targets within one term of office, and things we can more readily judge today.

      1. Global leadership. Even disregarding the actual impact on UK emissions, the message sent to the world by opening a new coal mine is the opposite of what would be expected of a global leader in the fight against climate change. You might disagree, but we would argue that it’s taken decades to firmly establish the link between fossil fuels and climate change in the public consciousness, and in that sense for a ‘global leader’ to open a new coal mine would be a retrograde step.
      2. CCC advice. The policy includes as one of its own criteria for success that government will act “as advised by the independent Committee on Climate Change”. That same committee has urged the government to reconsider its decision (the committee also agrees with us that the decision “gives a negative impression of the UK’s climate priorities”). So the government is no longer acting “as advised” by the CCC.

      The absence of leadership behaviour plus the failure to follow CCC guidance seem like clear failures on both the policy targets we’re able to easily assess.

      Our four statuses can sometimes seem a little lacking in nuance, and our attempts to be succinct can add to that, but the hope is that we can spark precisely this type of conversation and encourage more people to become thoughtful, active citizens. Thanks for being part of that.

      1. Leon (Admin) says:

        Now that government has called in the application for the mine, we’ve moved this back to ‘in progress’. We wait to see what comes of the public inquiry.

  2. Liz Reason says:

    There are many many respects in which government policies will fail to deliver on meaningful climate action. Their 10-point plan is not a plan, and several of them will not deliver emissions reductions in the timescale required, e.g. investment in small nuclear power stations. A non-existent technology still to be developed.

  3. Charles Merrill says:

    No argument with what the UK government has stated as the goals. The pledge to “lead the world” is commendable but needs to have some meaning attached. It is estimated that Global North nations need to commit 2-5% of GDP to have a good likeihood of acheiving global temp. rises of 1.5 C or less. Also, actively committing to climate justice (those first,worst and most affected need the most support) should be a specific commitment. This would demonstrate true leadership.

    This discussion/argument probably is outside the VFP remit, as we are about affirming that commitments made are kept. However, knowing that promises are just that until acted upon is important.

    1. Leon (Admin) says:

      Hi, Charles

      Thanks for your comment. You make a valid point about what would be required to fulfil this policy promise, and importantly what the policy does not address (climate justice).

      You’re right, of course, that promises requiring action are empty words without the action itself – that’s why we maintain this Tracker! There’s also an interesting discussion to be had around how best to hold governments accountable for long-term promises like this. The current crop of ministers will be long gone by 2050. A week is a long time in politics, but 2050 feels more like tomorrow in terms of climate change.

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