Press release

​Match success cleaning up power sector across UK economy to stay on track for net zero


29 December, 2020


Joe Dodd

Communications officer
020 7630 4552

Green Alliance’s latest Net zero policy tracker, which is monitoring progress on cutting emissions during this parliamentary term, shows the UK risks complacency just as the heavy lifting is needed across the economy to create green jobs and reach 2050 net zero target. [1]

Although the UK economy has reduced its carbon emissions at the fastest rate in the world over the past decade, this success is largely due to the phase-out of coal power. [2] The faster than predicted shift to renewable energy is disguising a lack of progress in other sectors of the economy, such as transport, agriculture and land use, and buildings [3]. This means the UK will struggle to reduce its climate impact and meet its ambitious net zero emissions by 2050 target. Ahead of hosting the G7 in June and the Glasgow COP26 climate conference in November, it is crucial for the UK to maintain its credibility as a leader of climate action.

Key findings of the analysis:

  • Power sector emissions have fallen from 21 per cent in 1990 to only 11 per cent of total UK carbon emissions in 2021.
  • Over half of UK emissions now come from the transport, buildings, and agriculture and land use sectors.
  • Based on current government policy, emissions will be nearly 40 per cent higher than needed to hit the 2030 climate target.
  • The UK has to more than double its annual spending on net zero focused policies from £21.2 billion to £43.6 billion, every year to 2024, to meet its climate targets.

In July 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson inherited a government that was off track to meet its own emissions reduction targets. Even though a progressive legal target of net zero emissions by 2050 had been set by Theresa May’s administration, under her leadership the UK failed to announce sufficient policies across key sectors to get the UK on track to meet this goal.

In preparation for COP26, the government has also set a bold target for 2030 under the Paris agreement (its nationally determined contribution (NDC)), promising to reduce emissions by 68 per cent compared with 1990 levels. Green Alliance analysis of government spending and policy plans reveals that, on the current trajectory, UK emissions will be nearly 40 per cent higher in 2030 than they need to be to achieve this.[4]

Some recent progress has been made. Boris Johnson’s The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, along with other measures, like the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank in the spring budget, mean the projected emissions gap is now smaller than it was at the start of 2020.

These measures have closed about 26 per cent of the projected gap of 118Mt of carbon emissions reductions needed by 2030. But they leave a further 87Mt of emissions reductions necessary over the next decade. This is equivalent to all the carbon emissions generated by the UK’s entire building stock in one year.

Green Alliance says that, if the government prioritised five key policy asks, it could make significant progress in closing the gap to 2030 and getting the UK on the right course for meeting net zero by 2050.

  1. Buildings are responsible for 16 per cent of UK emissions. [5] The government should invest £2.3 billion annually to bring down the climate impact of buildings, including replacing the scrapped Green Homes Grant with a robut homes decarbonisation policy that puts in place long term regulation, funding, and incentives to upgrade the UK’s inefficient housing stock over the next decade.
  1. Resource extraction and processing causes half of global emissions and contributes six per cent of UK emissions. [6] This important and overlooked area of climate policy should be addressed immediately with an ambitious, legally binding target to halve UK resource consumption by 2050. To work, this target must be implemented across the economy to focus all areas on greater efficiency and waste minimisation.
  1. Transport is now the largest source of UK emissions, accounting for 31 per cent. [7] An additional £8.7 billion annual spending on low carbon transport is required, including to supercharge the transition to electric vehicles and upgrade public and active transport. The main mechanism to deliver large-scale decarbonisation in this sector is through the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
  1. To cut emissions from agriculture and land use, the government should increase the ambition and regulations behind the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme to support farm businesses in adopting sustainable land management practices. £6.6 billion of additional spending is needed to support the restoration of nature and the establishment of a sustainable food, farming, and fishing sector.
  1. In the power sector, the rapid shift to renewables should continue. A new target to phase out unabated natural gas by 2035 should be legislated for in government to speed up the removal of all polluting fossil fuels from the power system within 15 years.

Chris Venables, head of politics at Green Alliance, said:
“When it comes to cutting emissions and rebuilding the economy after Covid, the prime minister really can have his cake and eat it. The UK has already made great strides on clean energy, this success now needs to be replicated by all parts of the economy and all departments of government with the same level of drive.”

Alexander Stafford, Conservative MP for Rother Valley, said:
“The UK has a proud decarbonisation story and now is the time to match that success across all parts of the economy. With greater investment into new green technologies we can achieve our net zero ambitions while creating skilled jobs in the areas that need them most as we build back better.”


Notes for editors

Green Alliance
Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank, focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. With a track record of over 40 years, Green Alliance has worked with the most influential leaders from the NGO, business, academic and political communities. Our work generates new thinking and dialogue, and has increased political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK.

[1] Net zero policy tracker – April 2021 update:
[2] Drax (2020) UK tops global decarbonisation league amid renewable revolution;
[3] Committee on Climate Change (2020) Sixth Carbon Budget Report- dataset
[4] Comparing projected emissions in 2030 from the latest BEIS dataset: to emissions needed to hit our NDC in 2030.
[5] Committee on Climate Change (2020) Sixth Carbon Budget Report- dataset
[6] UN International Resource Panel, 2019, Global resources outlook 2019: natural resources for the future we want
[7] Committee on Climate Change (2020) Sixth Carbon Budget Report- dataset

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