UK to set legally binding environmental targets in climate push

A new watchdog will monitor the government’s progress towards its goal of having net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

UK environment protest
Environmental groups have urged the British government to be more aggressive in its efforts to tackle climate change than its current goal of becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050 [File: Third party/Extinction Rebellion/Guy Reece via Reuters]

The United Kingdom says it will bring in legally binding targets on air quality, waste reduction, biodiversity and cleaner water as part of efforts to combat climate change, improve the environment and rebuild the economy.

Targets will be set in the four areas of air, waste, biodiversity and water, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said on Wednesday.

The targets will form part of the environment bill, introduced last year and set to resume its passage through Parliament soon, which will force the current and future governments to focus on environmental improvements.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to “build back greener” as the country tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic which caused its economy to shrink by a fifth in the second quarter.

A new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, will report annually on the government’s progress against the targets. It is also set to oversee the country’s move towards its 2050 net zero-emissions target.

The UK was the first G7 country to commit to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050, and will host the United Nations’ climate summit in November 2021 after it was delayed from 2020 by the pandemic.

But some environmental groups say the government needs to be even more aggressive.

Friends of the Earth, for instance, has urged the government to halt any planned expansions to airports and impose a levy on frequent flyers. The group also recommends phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans within the decade and help motorists switch to electric vehicles, among several other measures.

Bankers for NetZero

Last month, five lenders led by Barclays and Handelsbanken became founding members of a group that aims to offer financial support to businesses working to help the UK deliver a carbon-neutral economy.

The Bankers for NetZero initiative, which also includes Triodos, Ecology Building Society and digital lender Tide, have promised to explore ways to help businesses reduce risks involved in shifting to greener and more sustainable practices.

The group held an inaugural webinar meeting on July 16 that focused on retrofitting the built environment, a major source of carbon emissions, and on support banks could offer.

Insurer Legal & General, one of the UK’s top real estate investors, urged the government this month to legislate to improve transparency on how much energy commercial buildings use and to help businesses switch to renewable energy.

Bankers for NetZero hopes to set out recommendations, or a white paper, this year on accelerating the UK’s transition.

Source: Reuters