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Progress towards reaching Net Zero in the UK

Last updated: October 2023

This is an update to the CCC’s June assessment of the Government’s progress in reducing emissions in line with the UK’s climate targets. This resource doesn’t aim to cover all areas in detail. For a more comprehensive analysis on this update please refer to this article: CCC assessment of recent announcements and developments on Net Zero. For more detail on our June assessment please refer to our latest Progress Report. To learn more about how we track progress, take a look at our Monitoring Framework.

1. Timelines are slipping – a lack of urgency in reducing emissions

Emissions reduction outside of the electricity sector need to accelerate four-fold to meet the 2030 target1,2

Emissions are currently not decreasing at the pace required to meet future targets. Outside of electricity supply, aviation and shipping² the pace of emissions reduction needs to almost quadruple.

  • The bulk of emissions reductions over the last decade have been from the electricity supply sector alone.
  • Recent emissions reductions in surface transport have been driven by a fall in car travel dependency following the pandemic.
  • While there has been some limited progress in industry, buildings, fuel-supply and F-gases, the rate of emissions reduction needs to accelerate two or three times the current rate.
  • There has been no real progress in agriculture, land use and waste in the past eight years. Substantial reductions are needed by 2030.

Our confidence in the UK meeting the 2030 target1 remains low

In March 2023, the Government released its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP). This sets out how the Government plans to reduce emissions and was published in response to a High Court ruling that deemed the Government’s previous plan (their Net Zero Strategy) unlawful because it lacked detail. The CCC’s progress report to Parliament in June 2023 welcomed the increased transparency in the CBDP but highlighted significant risks to meeting the UK’s emissions targets.

Since June, there have been several notable developments, with consequences for the feasibility of achieving future emissions targets, several of which were contained within the Prime Minister’s speech made on 20th September. A deal has been reached to electrify steelmaking at Port Talbot; a new cap has been implemented for the UK emissions trading scheme (ETS);3 the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate has been implemented in legislation; Auction Round 5 (AR5) for Contracts for Difference (CfDs) failed to attract bids for offshore wind projects. The Prime Minister’s 20th September announcements included exemptions / delays to phase-out dates for fossil-fuelled cars and boilers, and a decision not to regulate for improved energy efficiency of rented homes. We have updated our snapshot assessment of risks to meeting the UK’s emissions targets to reflect these developments:

  • Overall, we find no material difference to the proportion of required emissions in 2030 assessed to be covered by ‘insufficient plans’ compared to the 18% estimate in our June assessment, this has now reduced to 17%.4 Without the Prime Minister’s announcements from 20th September, this would have improved to 14%.
  • Within this, we see a marked increase in risks to buildings decarbonisation that are approximately balanced by improvements for industrial decarbonisation. The portion of emissions reduction to be delivered by the ZEV Mandate has been solidified but risks to transport decarbonisation outside of this have increased. Risks have increased on delivery of renewable electricity generation.
  • While a 2035 phase-out date for fossil boilers is potentially compatible with Net Zero, the exemption of 20% of households from the phase-out will have an impact on emissions all the way out to 2050 – making Net Zero considerably harder to achieve – and creates widespread uncertainty for consumers and supply chains.
  • There has been an increase from 25% to 28% in required emissions reductions for 2030 covered by credible plans, as a result of the confirmation of the ZEV mandate, offset in part by potential damage to consumer and investor confidence for electric vehicles following the Prime Minister’s announcements.

2. The Government is slipping on its existing commitments

i) Phase out fossil fuel vehicles
  • The Government has pushed back its commitment to phase out new fossil fuel vehicle sales from 2030 to 2035.  However, it has confirmed the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate for manufacturers, which requires 80% of new cars sold in Great Britain to be zero emissions by 2030.
  • The uptake of zero-emission cars is ahead of schedule, but electric vans are being taken up at a slower rate than cars.
  • To successfully phase out fossil fuel vehicles, the Government must keep costs down to incentivise drivers to purchase electric vehicles.
  • There has been a potential damage to consumer and investor confidence for electric vehicles following the Prime Minister’s announcements.
ii) Install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028
  • The Government has pushed back the phase-out date for oil and LPG boilers from 2026 to 2035 and given a 20% exemption to the phase-out of all fossil fuel boilers. These announcements significantly increase the risks to the Government achieving its own targets on heat pump installations.
  • Emissions reduction from buildings has been slow paced since 2010. The installation of low-carbon heating mechanisms, such as heat pumps, is needed to increase the rate of decarbonisation in buildings.
  • Although the Government has high ambition for heat pump installation, the UK had the lowest number of heat pumps installed per capita in 2022 compared to neighbouring countries.
iii) Decarbonise the electricity system by 2035
  • Decarbonising the electricity system has driven the bulk of historical emissions reductions. Whilst there have been some promising steps made in the last year, the Government is still lacking a credible overall strategy for the decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2035.
  • Renewable electricity capacity increased in 2022, but not at the rate required to meet the Government’s stretching targets, particularly for solar deployment and CfD Auction Round 5 failed to attract bids for offshore wind projects. Given short lead-times, rapid deployment of renewables could have reduced dependence on imported gas during the fossil fuel crisis.
iv) Large scale deployment of new green industry
  • Hydrogen. The Government has set ambition for delivering low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030. There is now an important role for Government in setting the strategic direction for hydrogen, with decisions on end-uses dictating the level of infrastructure required.
  • No greenhouse gas removals projects are currently operating in the UK, but the Government is aiming to scale-up this decade. Action in this area has been delayed. There is now little space for unforeseen problems in project delivery for these nascent technologies. Although the recent funding announced to support carbon capture and storage is welcome, the same support has not been announced for engineered removals.

3. New policy is urgently needed

Action is needed in a range of areas to deliver on the Government’s emissions pathway, yet there is a danger that the required rapid deployment of infrastructure will be stymied by restrictive planning rules. There was a welcome high-level commitment to a spatial energy infrastructure plan and to changing the process for electricity grid connections in the Prime Minister’s 20th September announcements, although we await the detail of these.

Agriculture and land use still lack a coherent strategy.

Emissions have not declined in the last decade. Future decarbonisation is at risk, partially due to a lack of long-term funding, and a reliance on the voluntary uptake of low-carbon measures. The recent drop in Government ambition for decarbonisation in land use undermines the urgent need for action.

There are still insufficient plans for industry

The Government’s CBDP set ambition to cut emissions from industry by around 70% by 2035. Plans are currently insufficient for a large proportion of this, although the recent deal to electrify steelmaking at Port Talbot is a positive and significant step forward.

As UK industry decarbonises, it must remain competitive on the international stage. The UK has been slow to react to the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s proposed Green Deal Industrial Plan.

4. The Government must go further than its current plans to meet the 2030 target

Approximately half of the emissions reduction required to meet the 2030 target¹ is at risk, or has insufficient plans

As well as strengthening existing policies, the Government must act now to develop alternative plans to reduce delivery risk. In the below chart, each column illustrates the CCC’s assessment of potential emissions savings that can be made if new policies are implemented. These can make up for the policies and plans which are insufficient for meeting the 2030 target.

  • Surface transport demand measures are already part of the Government’s plan, but were not quantified in the CBDP.  
  • The following three columns show measures in the CCC’s Balanced Pathway5, which we recommend for inclusion in the Government’s plans.
  • The final three columns show options for going even further, beyond our Balanced Pathway.


¹ The ‘2030 target’ is the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) which is to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels.

² This excludes emissions from aviation and shipping, as these sectors were significantly impacted by the pandemic.

³ Our quantified assessment does not include the effect of the new ETS cap, which is set at the looser end of the range consistent with the Government’s Net Zero Strategy.

⁴ There is a 4% shortfall between the quantified plans in the CBDP and the 2030 NDC, that is not included in our insufficient plans category. The Government takes the position that this shortfall will be closed by the unquantified plans in the CBDP.

⁵ The CCC’s Balanced Pathway was developed for our Sixth Carbon Budget analysis. This is not a prescriptive path that must be followed exactly, but it provides a good indication of what should be done over the coming years.

We welcome feedback on this resource and our wider Monitoring Framework. Please contact us with any comments.