The UK is committed to reaching net zero by 2050. This briefing provides an overview of the background context for net zero, the plans in place to reach this goal, and current progress.
Climate change explainers
The House of Commons Library Climate Change Explainers (June 2020) are short briefings providing impartial analysis and explanation on climate topics. They include climate change fundamentals such as UK and global emissions, the science, and the history of international negotiations. They also provides a guide to understanding climate change policymaking and developments in approaches to addressing climate change.
A range of briefings on climate change are available from the Library and other parliamentary sources. The most recent, providing an overview of climate change policies across the UK, are set out below. Sector specific briefings are also available but not included here.
UK climate change policy
The Climate Change Act 2008 provides the framework for UK climate change policy. It established long-term statutory targets for the UK to decarbonise by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Under this the UK has a net-zero emissions target for 2050. The Act also established the Climate Change Committee as an independent body to advise the Government on setting its targets, report on progress, and put in place the framework to promote adaptation action.
House of Commons Library briefings are prepared to meet the demands of parliamentary business and should not be seen as comprehensive coverage of climate change policy. Details of the most recent briefings are set out below.
- The UK Emissions Trading Scheme (May 2021) replaced the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in the UK on 1 January 2021. The UK ETS is similar to the EU ETS in design. They both set emissions limits for high emitting industries and allowing them to trade carbon credits to meet their requirements. They UK ETS has 5% reduction in the emissions allowed, compared to the UKs cap within the EU ETS. The schemes are not linked, although both parties have expressed the intention of opening discussions to link them in the future.
- Climate Assembly UK (November 2020). The Assembly was jointly commissioned by six Parliamentary Select Committees in 2019 to answer the question of how the UK should meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It published its report, The Path to Net Zero, in September 2020 which was debated in Parliament in November 2020.
- The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Level playing field briefing (20 March 2021) looks at the provisions on climate change in the Agreement. The Library’s briefing on the UK-EU future relationship negotiations: Level playing field (17 March 2020) discusses the position of EU and UK during the negotiations of the of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, including on climate change.
- Library debate pack on climate justice (February 2020) and ensuring a just transition to a net-zero economy.
- Library briefing on Brexit: energy and climate change (September 2019) discusses climate change policy in the UK, the status of related Brexit negotiations and the possible impact of Brexit on these policy areas.
- UK Carbon Budgets (July 2019) covers the first five carbon budgets. It provides an overview of carbon budgets, decarbonisation, UK Government plans and progress against the targets. The Committee on Climate Change published its advice on the 6th Carbon Budget covering the period 2033-2037 in December 2020. The UK Government accepted the recommendation for the target, which is a reduction in emissions of 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035.
- Net Zero: a new UK climate change target? (October 2018) gives background to the Government’s proposal to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 to include a net zero target. The Library briefing on Net Zero in the UK (December 2019) provides detail of the introduction of the UK’s net zero target for 2050. Acting on climate change: The plan for net zero emissions in the UK (December 2019) is a short overview of net zero including policies for reducing emissions in key sectors like transport, energy, housing and agriculture.
International climate change conferences
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the 1992 Earth Summit. It entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 196 States or “Parties” to the Convention. The objective of the Treaty is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
Every year a Conference of the Parties (COP) takes place. Parties have agreed, at COP21 in Paris in 2015, to “keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 oC”. For further information on this see the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology PostNote on Limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C (February 2019).
The UK, in partnership with Italy, was due to host the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow and Milan in October 2020, now postponed to November 2021. The UK Government will hold the Presidency of COP26; Alok Sharma is currently President designate of COP26. Further information on the UK’s preparations in the run up to the Conference can be found the UK COP26 website.
The following Library briefings cover COP26 and previous conferences:
- COP26: Delivering on $100 billion climate finance (October 2021)
- COP26: the international climate change conference, Glasgow, UK (October 2021) covers the work of the UK and president designate, Alok Sharma in the lead up COP26, together with the emerging priorities for the conference
- Role and the response of the devolved administrations to COP26 (September 2021)
- The Santiago climate change conference took place in Madrid from 2-15 December 2019. The Library briefing on Chile Madrid climate change conference: COP25 provides more detail.
- Climate change conference (COP24), Katowice, Poland, 2018
- Paris Agreement and Marrakech Climate change conference (COP22), 2016
- Paris Climate change conference (COP 21), 2015
Briefings on earlier conferences are also available on the Commons Library Website.
Other parliamentary material
- Treasury Committee, House of Commons, Net Zero and the Future of Green Finance, April 2021.
- Lords Library briefing, Net zero and integrated policymaking, April 2021.
- Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, A climate for ambition: Diplomatic preparations for COP26, April 2021.
- Public Accounts Committee, House of Commons, Achieving Net Zero, March 2021.
- Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, House of Commons, Net Zero and UN Climate Summits: Scrutiny of Preparations for COP26 – interim report, March 2021.
- Environmental Audit Committee, House of Commons, Growing back better: putting nature and net zero at the heart of the economic recovery, February 2021.
- Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, House of Commons, COP26: Principles and priorities—a POST survey of expert views, November 2020.
- Lords Library Briefing, Net Zero Carbon Emissions Target and Climate Change: role of technological and lifestyle efforts, January 2020.
- Lords Library Briefing on Threats Presented by Climate Change , January 2019.
Devolved research services
- Northern Ireland Assembly Research Service briefing on Northern Ireland and Net Zero (March 2021) includes a comparison of Net Zero commitments across the four administrations.
- Scottish Parliament Information Service Key Issues for Session 6: COVID, Climate and Constitution briefing on The climate and nature scrutiny challenge (May 2021).
- Senedd Research Service What’s next? Key issues for the Sixth Senedd article on Climate change: the path to zero emissions (May 2021).
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) is to be held from 30 November to 1 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This briefing covers the main themes of COP28.
Use our interactive dashboard to explore data on electric and low-emissions vehicles, and charging points by local authority for the UK.