The Government is in no doubt that the we face an environmental and climate emergency – from climate change to biodiversity decline, from poor air quality to plastic pollution – which requires urgent action. The decisions we make today will affect the future of our planet for generations to come.
The Government’s approach is defined, not by the words we use, but by the actions we take. That is why, in October last year, we commissioned the independent Committee on Climate Change to provide advice on the implications of the Paris Agreement for our long-term emissions reduction targets, and why the Government has now responded to that advice by setting a new legally binding target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, via an amendment to the Climate Change Act that came into force on Thursday 27th June 2019. This will bring an end to the UK’s contribution to the emissions that cause climate change.
This latest action builds on the leading role we have taken in solving global environmental challenges, as we move towards a cleaner, resource efficient, more resilient and environmentally sustainable form of economic growth.
The UK was the first country in the world to introduce legally binding long-term emission reduction targets through the Climate Change Act 2008. Between 1990 and 2017, we reduced our emissions by 42 per cent while growing the economy by 72 per cent. We have been independently assessed by PwC as leading the G20 in decarbonising our economy since 2000. The independent International Energy Agency has recently stated that the UK is a world leader in decarbonisation of energy supply, both in terms of actual emissions reductions and ambitions set out in our future carbon targets.
We are continuing this proud record of action; we are now the first major economy in the world to have legislated for a net zero target. This commitment has been made possible by many years of hard work from Members across both Houses of Parliament and beyond.
Clean growth is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, backed by the UK’s biggest ever increase in public investment in research and development. Whether it be through our global offshore wind industry, our leadership on green finance or our unrivalled research base that is leading the charge on electric vehicles, we are showing the economic benefits of cutting emissions while growing our economy. Low carbon technology and clean energy already contribute more than £44 billion to our economy every year. We already have almost 400,000 jobs in the low carbon economy and its supply chain, and by one estimate this could grow to 2 million jobs in 2030.
We are taking clear steps to build on this leadership and meet our future carbon budgets, building on our Clean Growth Strategy. Last year we published our Road to Zero Strategy, which sets out a clear pathway to zero emissions from road transport, alongside plans to develop one of the best charging networks in the world. In the power sector, £92 billion has been invested in clean energy since 2010, and earlier this year we published the £250 million Offshore Wind Sector Deal, which commits the industry to providing a third of electricity by 2030. We are continuing to improve the route to market for renewables, by making up to £557 million available for further Contracts for Difference, with £65 million budgeted for the latest Allocation Round 3. And the Chancellor announced the Future Homes Standard, ensuring that by 2025 all new homes are future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency.
Climate change and biodiversity decline globally are interlinked threats for wildlife and people. We must solve both challenges or we will solve neither. The recent IPBES report shows we must redouble our efforts at home and internationally. This is why we are introducing the landmark Environment Bill – the first in over 20 years. The Bill will include measures to improve air quality, put the protection and enhancement of biodiversity at the heart of the planning system, improve waste management and resource efficiency, and improve surface waste ground water and wastewater management. The Bill will put environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government, establishing the Office for Environmental Protection and introducing statutory environmental principles. We are exploring options for developing a framework of targets to drive environmental improvement alongside sustainable growth.
The Bill will also place the Government’s flagship 25 Year Environment Plan onto a statutory footing. The plan signals a step-change in ambition, setting out how we will improve the environment within a generation - by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality, and curbing the scourge of plastics in the world’s oceans. The first progress report, published in May 2019, finds that 90 per cent of our priority actions have been delivered or are on track for timely delivery.
In December 2018, the Government published a comprehensive Resources and Waste Strategy as a blueprint for moving to a more circular economy which keeps resources in use for longer, eliminating all avoidable waste and doubling resource productivity by 2050.
We have laid the Agriculture Bill in Parliament, which sets out our plans to reward land managers for protecting and restoring the environment and farming sustainably. This year, we will also start developing a new emissions reduction plan for agriculture, in which we will set out our long-term vision for a more productive, low-carbon farming sector. We are putting our new Environmental Land Management scheme at the corner of our agricultural policy, providing public money for public goods – including the protection of habitats which will support our biodiversity goals and climate change mitigation and adaptation. This will help deliver a key outcome set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.
We have kick-started the creation of a vast Northern Forest – which will see 50 million trees planted from Liverpool to Hull over the next 25 years - and announced £50 million to help plant new woodlands through the Woodland Carbon Guarantee, with £10 million to plant new trees in our towns and cities through the Urban Tree Challenge Fund.
We have committed to publishing an England Peatland Strategy, which will set out our vision to reverse decline in peatlands and restore them, providing a range of public benefits including carbon storage, biodiversity rich habitats and flood mitigation. Work is underway on four large-scale peatland restoration projects across England, to which we have allocated £10 million, and will restore 6498 hectares of degraded peatlands. We will also be setting up a Lowland Agricultural Peatland Taskforce.
The work of Natural England and its staff in protecting our invaluable natural spaces, wildlife and environment is vital and its independence as an advisor is essential to this. As set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan, it will continue to have a central role in protecting and enhancing our environment for future generations. Defra and Natural England have responded to the need to balance public spending and to manage resources rigorously. Natural England has transformed the way it does business, working in partnership and deploying resources where they will have greatest impact.
We should celebrate the progress we have made, but we must go further if we are to deliver Net Zero and leave the environment in a better state than we found it. With further ambitious domestic policy and concerted international action, solving the challenge of climate change and environmental degradation is possible.
It will require Government - and political parties of all colours – to work together with all sectors of business and society. And we must fully engage young people too – which is why a new Youth Steering Group, led by the British Youth Council, will be set up to advise government – for the first time giving young people the chance to shape our future climate policy.
2020 is the year that the nations of the world must come together to agree stronger action for climate, nature and ocean protection. The UK is committed to leading action globally on halting the loss of biodiversity and developing an ambitious new post-2020 global framework for biodiversity under the Convention on Biological Diversity. We continue to drive action with global partners on climate change and other environmental concerns, as we bid, in partnership with Italy, to host the 26th session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in 2020 under a UK Presidency. If we are to meet the challenge of climate change, we need international partners across the world to step up to our level of ambition.
We will build on the strong frameworks of the Clean Growth Strategy and Industrial Strategy to deliver the necessary transformation of our economy. Our forthcoming Energy White Paper will outline the Government’s vision for the energy system in 2050 and the actions that will enable the system to evolve during this next decade in order to achieve our 2050 net zero target.
Acting together, we can seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle one of the greatest threats to humanity.
It is actions like these that will deliver the changes we need to see and help to secure the future of the world we leave to our children and grandchildren.