COP28: Sunak's policy failures are derailing a crucial international climate target - new research

Press release
New climate action plan needed to ensure UK targets are met - and exceeded
  Published:  06 Dec 2023    |      3 minute read

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s repeated pledge to honour a key international climate commitment is veering dangerously off track - and the emissions gap has grown enormously under his leadership, new analysis by Friends of the Earth - published in today’s Guardian - reveals.  

As the international community discuss tougher climate action at the UN climate summit in Dubai (COP28), Friends of the Earth has analysed the UK government’s progress towards achieving its international commitment to cut emissions by over two thirds (68%) by 2030 (based on 1990 levels).

Rishi Sunak has repeatedly promised his government will meet the target, which was first announced in 2021 as the UK’s contribution to the UN Paris Agreement goal to limit global heating to 1.5C and avert catastrophic climate breakdown. The target is also in line with the emissions reductions needed to hit the UK’s Net Zero commitments.

The Prime Minister personally pledged to meet the 2030 target at COP27, reaffirming it when he attended the COP28 talks in Dubai last week, saying “our 2030 target means the deepest cuts of any major emitter, and we’re determined to deliver.”

However, the latest analysis by Friends of the Earth, published today as part of a new report, has found: 
• The UK’s international climate commitment to cut emissions by over two thirds by 2030 is dangerously off track. Friends of the Earth estimates that under present policies, UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would only be around 59% lower than 1990 – leaving a gap of 9 percentage points with the target of 68%.  
• The emissions gap between what the government has promised and what its policies are likely to achieve has grown by more than half (55%) since Rishi Sunak became PM.  
• Under current government plans, the UK would likely only achieve around half (54%) of the emissions cuts needed to hit the target between now and 2030 (excluding the emissions reductions that have already been achieved since 1990).  
• Effective policies aimed at cutting emissions in four key energy sectors: surface transport (which excludes shipping and aviation), buildings, industry, and electricity, have also dropped under Rishi Sunak’s leadership, with the share of plans regarded as “credible” or only having “some risk” falling since June 2022*.  

The 2030 target is still achievable, but the UK government must draw up a new climate action plan that’s credible, ambitious and urgent enough to ensure that the UK meets and exceeds the 2030 international commitment – as well as legally-binding domestic climate targets, which ministers are also struggling to meet.  

The new plan should set out a package of new policies which includes boosting the take-up of electric heat pumps, investing in renovating the electric grid, funding a £6 billion home insulation programme, making public transport more affordable and reliable, and ending planning restrictions to unleash the huge potential of homegrown renewable energy. The plan must also pave the way for a fair green transition that reduces inequalities by ensuring that the costs and benefits of the policies are distributed fairly across society.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Danny Gross, said:  

“Despite the Prime Minister’s repeated assurances, the UK’s 2030 climate commitment is seriously off-track – and that gap has grown significantly under Rishi Sunak’s leadership.  

“The fact remains that you can’t approve new fossil fuel projects, max out North Sea oil and gas and roll back vital green policies while staying committed to our climate targets - it’s one road or the other.    

“With just seven years to meet the pledge, and still no credible climate strategy in place, our future is looking increasingly uncertain. And yet there’s still time to get things back on course with bold and ambitious leadership that recognises the scale and pace of change required.

“That starts with a fully-fledged climate action plan. One that can genuinely deliver our 2030 target and ensure a green transition that we can all benefit from - in the way of lower energy bills, long-term sustainable jobs and a healthier planet.”


Notes to editors:
1. Friends of the Earth’s has today published its new report, Off track: is the UK breaking its 2030 climate promise?
2. To estimate emissions in 2030, we analysed the ratings of the government’s current plans by the CCC, which sorts them into the following categories: Credible plans; plans with some risk; plans with significant risk; and insufficient plans.

We used these ratings to create new estimates for projected emissions in 2030. We took the CCC’s baseline of “emissions if no action” and subtracted emissions reductions associated with the government’s plans. Our central estimate includes all emissions reductions backed by “credible plans” and those with “some risk” but excludes “insufficient plans” and those with “significant risk”.  

The CCC has corroborated our figures for the emissions gap in 2030, as well as our data on the quality of the government’s plan in four energy sectors. This does not imply the CCC supports FOE’s legal challenge against the government’s climate plan.  

For more information on how we analysed the data, read the “methodology” section of the report.  

*Below is a table which sets out how policies to decarbonise four key energy sectors have seen a drop in the share of their plans regarded as “credible” or posing “some risks”