UK Government’s climate plans: “half-baked, half-hearted and dangerously lacking ambition.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In a parallel universe, the Government’s update of its Net Zero Strategy (NZS) with a suite of new policies would have addressed the multiple flaws identified in Zero Hour’s Ambition Gap report. The hard-hitting report by the campaign behind the Climate & Ecology Bill, reviewed and endorsed by an array of top climate and nature scientists, sets out why the UK’s climate plans fall far short of what is needed for 1.5°C.

On the face of it, the new policies will address the ‘Delivery Gap’ that was opening up, bringing emissions into line with the UK’s targets. Though delve deeper into detail and you find a dangerous reliance on unproven and heavily disputed techno-fixes, like carbon capture and ‘blue’ hydrogen designed to keep the oil and gas flowing. Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth describes the new plans as “half-baked, half-hearted and dangerously lacking ambition”.

But even if we take the Government’s figures at face value, the fact remains that the UK’s climate targets (‘carbon budgets’) are woefully inadequate to limit warming to anything like 1.5°C. Here’s why.

UK targets are too weak for 1.5°C. Carbon budgets to 2032 were set up to 12 years ago. They ignore international aviation and shipping, make unrealistic assumptions that all nations will cut emissions as fast as us, and ignore population growth and rising living standards in developing nations.

The Net Zero Strategy (NZS) was devised to achieve a just a 50 per cent chance of success. A safe future for humanity on the toss of a coin.

40 per cent of our carbon footprint is ignored, with no targets whatever to reduce imported emissions. Once we add imports, aviation and shipping, emissions cuts since 1990 are less than 1 per cent per year because UK has offshored so much manufacturing.

UK continues to develop new fossil fuels despite warnings from the UN, the IEA and the CCC that this is not consistent with limiting global heating to 1.5°C.

Government still aims for 300,000 homes to be built a year, each causing 50 tonnes of emissions, whilst doing almost nothing to retrofit insulation and heat pumps in existing homes. That alone will blow our carbon budget.

Demand-reduction measures on transport are too weak. Roads and airports are even set to expand, and there is no action to curb soaring SUV sales. There’s little action on the mass shift needed to public transport and active travel.

BECCS at Drax absolutely cannot deliver promised its CO2 removals and has devastating impacts on nature. Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACCS) cannot be carbon negative until there is spare renewable power, well outside the critical time frame for 1.5°C.

Methane levels are rising alarmingly fast. It’s 83 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years. The CCC says we must cut meat consumption by 20 per cent by 2030 or miss targets. But government is doing nothing, afraid to even inform the public about this. Why not treat people like grown ups?

The NZS relies on blue hydrogen, made from methane, worse than coal for climate.… And on biofuels for aviation – which threaten food security and ignore contrails, half the warming impact.

The taxpayer continues to fund fossil fuels with £10bn in tax breaks every year.

All I have cited above is all just failure to address emissions, but it is only half the story. We cannot get to grips with climate change without protecting and restoring nature, looking after our critical natural stores of carbon.

The NZS totally fails to address the food system, accounting for 35 per cent of our emissions (including imports). The food system drives agricultural damage – not farmers. Only transformative action gives us a hope of 1.5°C.

Agrochemicals and livestock waste are poisoning our land, polluting rivers and leaching into drinking water systems. Almost 50 per cent of UK methane, 70 per cent of nitrous oxide and 87 per cent of ammonia pollution comes from agriculture. Yet…

…new EIP river targets have no targets at all for pesticides, antibiotics or animal waste, despite agricultural pollution being the main cause of rivers failing on ecological status. Pesticides are everywhere.

And water companies are being given until 2050 for the majority of sewage outflows to comply with targets. Even beyond that, they can still dump raw sewage if they demonstrate there’s no adverse impact. There won’t if everything is dead by then…!


Peatland stores 8 times as much carbon as tropical rainforest. UK’s degraded peatlands account for nearly 4 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the NZS only aims to restore 20 per cent with ELMS – a voluntary scheme – despite huge benefits of going further.

Plans for a 2 per cent increase in woodland by 2050 are pitiful, even less ambitious than the previous 30,000 hectare target. Friends of the Earth and Rewilding B estimate that we could realistically double woodland in a decade.

The NZS completely ignores that the ocean can store more carbon than any other ecosystem. Blue carbon is not included in our emissions reporting. Gov continues to allow destructive bottom trawling- even in marine protection areas -despite causing more CO2 than aviation.

The NZS ignores the UK’s global ecological footprint. For food alone, we use almost as much land overseas as our own land area. We must take responsibility for impacts beyond our own borders.

The UK needs a clear overarching legally-binding strategy to deliver nature restoration and ensure we stick to our share of the global carbon budget, whilst taking responsibility for our global footprint. Please support the CE Bill now.

The CE Bill is supported by these scientists (and more), 160+ MPs and Peers, hundreds of councils, businesses and NGOs. Scientists can sign up HERE.