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UK risks missing 2035 climate target by huge margin, advisers warn

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Oil platform in the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland

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The UK risks missing its 2035 climate change target by a “huge margin” because only a fifth of the emissions cuts needed are being addressed by effective government policies, the country’s top climate advisers warn.

“We are very concerned about where things stand [on action to cut emissions],”says Chris Stark of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent public body that advises the UK government.

In its Progress in Reducing Emissions report to parliament, which is published today, the group says key policies and strategies on everything from decarbonising heating to future North Sea oil production have been delayed. Taken together, the CCC says credible policies are lacking for four-fifths of the emissions reductions needed to reach the legally binding goal of a 78 per cent cut on CO2 emissions by 2035.

The UK is also off-track for more imminent carbon targets too, in 2025 and 2030. Hitting the short-term milestones will be vital for the country to reach its ultimate goal of net zero by 2050.

Stark welcomes prime minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point green plan, which was announced last November, and says in some areas the government is on track, such as with offshore windfarms and tree-planting plans up to 2025. However, he says “new commitments are so slow” to come from the government and when plans have arrived they have fallen short. The CCC cites as one example the poor progress on encouraging people to ditch their gas and oil boilers for clean alternatives including heat pumps.

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Climate change committee graph

The result is the UK government’s promise of a “net-zero strategy” in advance of the COP26 climate summit in November has taken on huge significance, the CCC says. “The government is playing a pretty high stakes game here. They seem to be placing all of their chips on the new net-zero strategy,” says Stark.

In a statement, Green party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This government routinely boasts of its climate leadership and has set plenty of targets but this report from the CCC lays bare the true extent of the delivery gap.” Action, not pledges and targets, would be needed to avert catastrophic climate change, she added.

A UK government spokesperson says: “Any suggestion we have been slow to deliver climate action is widely off the mark.”

The CCC has increasingly been turning up the pressure on the UK government over its response to climate change. Just last week it warned the country was woefully failing to adapt to climate risks from heatwaves to flooding, with Stark speaking of his frustration at government inaction.

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