Boris Johnson is drawing up plans for a 50 per cent increase in the rate of decarbonisation of the UK economy over the next decade, in a move that would pose big challenges for consumers and industry.
The prime minister is examining a new target under which the UK would need to cut carbon emissions by about 69 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, superseding the current goal of 61 per cent, according to officials.
The target would be one of the most stringent in the world, and comes as the EU is deadlocked over its 2030 climate goal.
The UK has slashed its carbon emissions by 45 per cent over the past three decades, through measures including the closure of many coal-fired power stations and increased use of offshore wind farms.
A new UK target for 2030 emissions reduction would increase the level of cuts needed over the next 10 years from 16 to 24 percentage points — a 50 per cent change.
It could require consumers to abandon gas boilers in their homes faster than anticipated and force heavy industry to cut emissions on a more ambitious timetable.
British officials cautioned that while a new 2030 goal was being considered by Mr Johnson, he had not signed it off.
The revised goal would be aimed at bolstering the UK’s position as host of the UN COP26 climate talks — to be held in Glasgow next year — and its efforts to persuade other countries to adopt tougher climate targets.
As US president-elect Joe Biden puts the environment high on his agenda, with the appointment of John Kerry as climate tsar, pressure is building on Britain as the host of COP26.
The UK was one of the first major economies to adopt a legally binding target for net zero emissions by 2050, which in effect strip fossil fuels out of the economy.
Last week Mr Johnson set out a 10-point plan that would help the UK towards its 2050 target and involve investment in hydrogen technology, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear power.
A more ambitious UK emissions reduction goal for 2030 would require a significant step up from the government’s policies, according to climate experts.
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Richard Black, head of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “It’s going to need several more 10-point plans to get on track to a figure of 68 or 69 per cent cuts by 2030.”
Research by Cambridge Econometrics, and commissioned by the Prince of Wales corporate leaders group, said a target of a 70 per cent emissions cut by 2030 was needed to put the UK on track for its 2050 goal.
The UK Committee on Climate Change, an independent advisory body to the government, will publish its recommendation next week on what levels of emissions cuts are needed to reach the net zero goal in 2050.
Mr Johnson is preparing to convene an environment summit with about 70 heads of state on December 12, the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, which will be co-hosted by António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, and President Emmanuel Macron of France.
The Paris accord, which has been ratified by 189 countries, aims to limit global warming to less than 2C and allows countries to set their own emissions reduction targets, which are called “nationally determined contributions”.
Major economies are expected to set targets for reductions in emissions by 2030 ahead of the COP26 summit.
Countries’ existing goals on emissions cuts are far off track from what would be needed to keep global warming to less than 2C.
Some environmental campaigners and industry figures expect Downing Street to appoint a climate tsar to assist the government with preparations for the COP26 summit.
David Cameron, the former prime minister, and William Hague, former foreign secretary, have turned down the chance to chair COP26, and the role has been assigned to Alok Sharma, the business secretary.
“The UK has led the world in tackling climate change,” said a government spokesperson, without confirming details of a new 2030 emissions reduction target for the UK.
“We are taking every opportunity to build on this fantastic track record. The UK is currently reviewing its [nationally determined contribution] and will publish its enhanced NDC ahead of the climate ambition summit on 12 December.”
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