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UK announces new NDC target for cutting climate emissions

3 December 2020
Europe - Spain - UK placeholder at COP25

Boris Johnson has acknowledged that vulnerable communities are already feeling the effects of the climate emergency

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new target for cutting the UK’s climate emissions.

The target, known as a ‘nationally determined contribution’ or ‘NDC’, commits the government to reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions by 68 per cent by the year 2030 compared to the level they were at back in 1990.

Greenhouse gases – which are emitted from burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil or from farming techniques which release lots of methane – are responsible for driving the temperature rises which are causing the climate crisis and devastating the world’s poorest communities.

The new climate goal is higher than the UK’s previous target of cutting emissions by 61 per cent by the end of the decade, with the NDC meaning the government will have to do more to eliminate emissions from homes, transport and agriculture.

The announcement comes in advance of a Climate Ambition Summit which the UK will host on 12 December.

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NDC is a ‘welcome step’ – but not yet ambitious enough

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD, said:

“Publishing the UK’s NDC is a welcome step from the government and an important signal as President of the COP26 climate talks.

“The government’s commitment to a reduction of at least 68 per cent in carbon emissions by 2030 is a solid starting point, but it still reflects the minimum that needs to happen.”

The announcement means that the UK’s NDC target is the most ambitious so far of any rich country.

The target is in line with the recommendation from the Climate Change Committee, the government’s climate advisers.

But The Climate Coalition group of organisations and charities, of which CAFOD is a member, has said the UK should commit to cutting emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 as one of the largest historic emitters.

Thorns explained:

“In light of the devastating impacts of climate change on the poorest communities and the UK’s historic responsibility and wealth, the ambition falls short of what is needed. We know from communities in the global south whose livelihoods have been destroyed by climate change that this is not a debate about what is technically and politically feasible, but it is often a matter of life and death.

“Governments need to focus on what is urgent and what is needed to keep our world below a 1.5-degree temperature rise, not limit themselves to what seems possible.”

What is an NDC or nationally determined contribution?

NDCs are pledges by countries to cut their emissions by a certain amount.

All countries which have signed the Paris Agreement on climate change are supposed to make new pledges by the end of 2020.

The nationally determined contributions are set by countries themselves, with states such as the UK which have contributed to the largest share of global emissions expected to make the biggest commitments.

The climate commitments are supposed to put the world on track to limiting global temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees above levels seen before the industrial revolution.

Tens of millions of more people will suffer from more frequent and worse famines, droughts, floods and storms if temperatures rise beyond this level, with the world’s poorest communities facing the greatest catastrophes.

Neil Thorns added:

“The UK has a critical role to play as COP President in working with other countries to raise ambition and resources to achieve what Pope Francis has called ‘a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good’.

“The true test of our climate action will be in the lives of those most affected.”

UK support for fossil fuels undermines new NDC

The announcement of the new NDC came after petitions signed by more than 71,000 people were delivered to Downing Street urging the Prime Minister to stop the UK’s support for fossil fuels overseas.

Neil Thorns said:

“The UK must also ensure that international policies match domestic commitments. There is no point making progress at home if we simply export our carbon emissions overseas.

“CAFOD research shows the UK is still supporting fossil fuels overseas including via CDC Group and UK Export Finance. This undermines the UK NDC, while amplifying the negative impacts of climate change.

“The Prime Minister must announce immediately the end of UK support for fossil fuels, to ensure the integrity of this NDC and its COP26 Presidency.”

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