Reducing the UK’s emissions

The Committee on Climate Change has played an important role in the UK’s transition to a low-carbon future. Read more about our advice to Government and how this has helped the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions across the economy.

  • In 2008, the UK Government legislated the level of the 2050 target in line with the Committee’s advice. That commits the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels (up from a previous commitment of 60%).
  • The first five ‘carbon budgets’, which set legally-binding targets for emissions reductions between 2008 and 2032, were legislated in line with the Committee’s advice. These require a reduction in UK emissions of 57% from 1990 to 2030 and, if delivered, will keep the UK on track to meeting the 2050 target.
  • UK emissions have continued to fall since the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. In 2016, the UK’s emissions were 42% below 1990 levels, while the economy grew by two-thirds over the same period. This means the UK will have met the first two carbon budgets (2008-12 and 2013-17) and is on track to meeting the third (2018-22).

Power sector achievements

Buildings sector achievements

Transport sector achievements

Agriculture sector achievements

Industry sector achievements

Bioenergy sector achievements

Devolved Administration achievements

Power sector

In 2008 the Committee called for a focus on reducing emissions from the power sector as one of the top priorities in decarbonising the economy. This has been a major success area, with emissions down 55% from 2008 to 2016.

  • Fundamental reform of the electricity market has taken place since the Climate Change Act was passed, in line with the CCC’s recommendations. This includes the introduction of long-term contracts for the generation of low-carbon electricity and a shift to competitive approaches when allocating contracts, these have supported dramatic reductions in the cost of renewable power (for example, costs of contracted new-build offshore wind power has fallen by over 50% from 2015 to 2017. The proportion of electricity generated from renewables has also increased from 12% in 2012 to 30% in 2017. Long-term contracts have allowed construction to begin on the first new nuclear power plant in a generation.
  • The introduction of a UK ‘carbon price floor’ has put a minimum price on emissions from the power sector. This has helped to drive the transition away from coal to lower-carbon sources of energy – in April 2018 the UK was powered for a three-day period without burning coal.
  • No new coal-fired power stations have been built since the Climate Change Act was passed, in line with the CCC’s recommendation that new coal plants should only be built if they include technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions, known as Carbon Capture and Storage.
  • The Government has supported the conversion of existing coal plants to use biomass (burning wood, plants, food waste and other biological matter), instead of investments in new dedicated biomass plants, in line with CCC advice in 2011. The Government has also tightened the sustainability limits for use of biomass in line with the Committee’s advice to 200gCO2/kWh in 2020, moving towards 180gCO2/kWh in 2025, ensuring that bioenergy will become an increasingly clean source of fuel.
  • Funding of the ‘Levy Control Framework’, which sets a cap on Government subsidies to support renewable energy generation, was set in line with the CCC’s advice at £7.9 bn in 2020/21. Funding for offshore wind and other emerging technologies has been extended to the mid-2020s helping to support investors in developing projects and cutting costs.
  • The Committee identified offshore wind as a strategic priority for the UK in its 2011 Renewable Energy Review with potential for significant cost reduction and to provide a major contribution to the UK’s low-carbon future. Offshore wind is on track to provide over 10% of UK generation by 2020 with the UK having the largest installed capacity in a growing global market. Offshore wind costs for contracted new-build projects have plummeted close to the costs of new gas-fired generation.

Buildings

  • The Government has set out a high level of ambition on energy efficiency and is seeking to ensure as many UK homes as possible are rated EPC band C by 2035. This is consistent with the Committee’s scenarios, providing that appropriate measures to achieve the Government’s desired ambition are vigorously pursued.
  • The Government’s strategy to reduce emissions from heating UK buildings is increasingly focussed on heat pumps and low-carbon heat networks, in line with the Committee’s advice. This includes a commitment to phase out the installation of fossil fuel heating in homes off the gas grid during the 2020s.
  • Research is underway to consider the potential for hydrogen (instead of natural gas) to heat the UK’s buildings. The Government has accepted the Committee’s recommendation to prepare for a set of decisions in the first half of the next decade on the future of the gas grid and how we heat our homes by undertaking an extensive programme of research on hydrogen and electrification of heat as part of a heat strategy update.
  • The Committee has consistently highlighted the case for making sure that we do not build homes now which required retrofitting in 15 years’ time. In its 2017 Clean Growth Strategy, the Government committed to future-proofing new homes for low-carbon heat as part of a broader review of building standards.

Transport

  • The Committee identified electric vehicles (EVs) as a key part of the low-carbon economy in 2008. Since 2010, when EVs made up less than 0.01% of car sales, the Committee’s central scenario has included EVs accounting for 60% of new car sales by 2030, leaving open the possibility of achieving 100% of new car sales by around 2035. At the end of 2017, sales were over 2% and rising rapidly. The Government has announced that sales of new conventional cars will be phased out by 2040, and policy has followed CCC recommendations with upfront subsidies reducing the costs of purchasing electric vehicles and support for roll-out of improved vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • CCC analysis of logistics options to reduce emissions from HGVs has been reflected in the Government’s Freight Carbon Review. The Committee drew attention to the gap between reported and real world emissions in a report in 2015. The issue subsequently became a topic of worldwide concern.

Agriculture

  • The Committee commissioned one of the first assessments of the opportunities to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector, laying the foundations for a voluntary industry Action Plan aiming to reduce emissions from agriculture.

Industry

  • The Committee developed a detailed and robust evidence base with buy-in from industrial stakeholders which demonstrates a credible pathway to significant decarbonisation of UK industry. This evidence was accepted by Government with the fourth and fifth carbon budgets being set at levels which imply clear ambition for industrial decarbonisation.
  • The Committee recommended that the Government should undertake a set of decarbonisation roadmaps, working with the energy-intensive sectors. In 2013, the Government established a £1m research programme on these lines, the Industrial Decarbonisation and Energy Efficiency Roadmaps to 2050. The Committee subsequently recommended that these should be turned into detailed action plans – which was taken forward by Government in the Industrial decarbonisation and energy efficiency action plans.
  • The Committee has shown that low-carbon policies have not had a major impact to date on the cost of UK manufacturing. If the costs on industrial bills were passed on to consumers in full, they would add 3p to a £10 basket of goods in 2016, and 6p by 2030. The Committee’s analysis of competiveness has shown that current compensation to avoid carbon leakage is broadly appropriate and the compensation needed should decline over time as carbon policies increase in other countries. This has helped support a continued policy focus on reducing industrial emissions.
  • Building on this, the Government, in its 2017 Clean Growth Strategy, has set out its ambition to deliver a 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

Bioenergy

  • The Government is planning to meet around 10% of the UK’s energy needs with bioenergy in 2050, and has tightened the sustainability limits for use of to 200gCO2/kWh in 2020, moving towards 180gCO2/kWh in 2025, in line with the Committee’s advice. This means that bioenergy (produced by burning wood, plants, food waste and other biological matter) will become an increasingly clean source of fuel.
  • The Committee’s 2011 Bioenergy Review set out a hierarchy of best use for bioenergy feedstocks, which showed that using wood in construction to displace cement and steel is the best use, followed by BECCS and use in hard to abate sectors such as aviation. This hierarchy of best use has been reflected in Government policy, with an increased use of wood in construction now a policy commitment in the Government’s 2017 Clean Growth Strategy.
  • The Government has committed to working at the European level to implement tighter sustainability standards on liquid biofuels in line with CCC recommendations.

Devolved administrations

  • The broad approach to emissions reduction set out by the Committee has been reflected in both the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ Climate Change Strategies.
  • Scotland has become the leading UK nation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Scotland proposes to adopt new climate change legislation in 2019. The Committee provided advice as to its design in March 2017. The level of ambition around the roll-out of low carbon heating was updated in light of the Committee’s advice.
  • In 2017, Wales accepted the Committee’s recommendations with regards to the design of new carbon targets and the Committee provided further advice on the level of Wales’ new carbon targets and budgets.