NET ZERO CARBON EMISSIONS BY 2050: The UK publishes its strategy


The UK government has published its strategy (the "Strategy") on achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, just over a week before it hosts COP 26 in Glasgow. The Strategy, set out in a policy paper entitled Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener[1], builds on the UK's commitments under the Paris Agreement towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the government's 10-point plan for the next industrial revolution - the so-called green industrial revolution. It will be interesting to see how the Strategy holds up to scrutiny from participants at COP 26 and the wider green economy. The question, no doubt, will be whether the Strategy goes far enough to meet climate change targets, chief amongst them being the commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. 

Background to the Strategy

Paris Agreement 

The target of net zero omissions by 2050 is the product of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21[2]) held in Paris in 2015 and the adoption of the Paris Agreement - an international treaty wherein the signatories agree to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, from pre-industrial levels. To deliver on this key tenet of the agreement, scientists acknowledge that the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere must not exceed the amount of carbon taken out of it – in other words, we need net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This target is now enshrined in Article 4 of the Paris Agreement and domestic law[3]. 

In addition to the key tenet, the Paris Agreement requires countries to submit their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as nationally determined contributions ("NDCs"), to the UNFCCC. The UK's NDC commits to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 68% compared to 1990 levels[4]. Countries are also invited to submit long term low emissions development strategies, or LT-LEDs, setting out long term strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Strategy is one of two LT-LEDS the UK has submitted to the UNFCCC, the other being the UK Clean Growth Strategy under Theresa May's government in 2017.

Ten-point plan

In addition to obligations under international law, the government announced its domestic ten-point plan in November 2020 for building a prosperous, green and decarbonised UK economy in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The plan sought to mobilise £12 billion of government investment, with up to three times as much from the private sector by 2030, in order to create and support 250,000 green jobs. The ten-point plan consisted of the following:

  • Advancing offshore wind: aim to produce 40GW of offshore wind power including 1GW of floating offshore power by 2030;
  • Growth of Hydrogen as a fuel source: aim to develop 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production by 2030 supported by a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund;
  • Delivering new and advanced nuclear power: the announcement of up to £385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund which will enable investment into nuclear reactors;
  • Accelerating the shift towards zero emission vehicles: taking the decision to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 with all vehicles being required to have zero emissions capability from 2030 and the publication of a phase out green paper in 2021;
  • Green public transport, cycling and walking: aim to invest tens of billions of pounds into enhancements, renewals and electrification of the rail network, city public transport and buses, segregated cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods;
  • Jet Zero and green ships: Investment of £20 million into a clean maritime programme and a £15 million competition to support the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels and the establishment of the Jet Zero Council to help develop technologies for net zero aviation;
  • Greener buildings: aim for 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028 and provide £1 billion to extend existing schemes geared towards greener household consumption including the Green Homes Grant and public sector Decarbonisation Scheme;
  • Investment into carbon capture: aim to capture up to 10Mt of carbon dioxide per year by the 2030s by establishing carbon capture sites;
  • Protection of the natural environment: creation of new national parks and areas of outdating national beauty and an immediate £40 million investment in nature conservations creating thousands of jobs; and
  • Green finance and innovation: launch of the £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio to accelerate the development of low carbon technologies and the issuance of the UKs first Sovereign Green Bond in 2021. On the 21 September 2021 this green bond package was launched raising £10 billion.

Net Zero Strategy (the "Strategy")

Just under a year after the government released its ten-point plan, and just over a week before the much-anticipated COP 26 (publicised as the last chance for countries to meaningfully agree on steps to reverse the wheel of climate change), the Strategy was published. The Strategy sets out how the UK will deliver on the ten-point plan by formulating indicative delivery pathways for each sector of the economy up to 2037 (the end of the sixth carbon budget), which will be used as a guide to ensure the UK is on track for net zero emissions by 2050. The Strategy also sets out updated targets and policies.

The policies brought forward in the Strategy mean that, since the ten-point plan, the government has mobilised over £26 billion of government capital investment which will support 190,000 jobs by 2050 and 440,000 jobs by 2030. It will also leverage up to £90 billion of private funding by 2030.  This surpasses the funding targets originally published in the ten-point plan, at least on paper. However, the Strategy implies that more than £700 billion of investment will be needed over the years to 2037 in order to meet the Strategy's ultimate targets and, therefore, there appears to still be a considerable gap in funding[5].

Notable policy points from the Strategy:

Power: The key policy for the power sector is that by 2035 the UK will be powered entirely by clean energy, subject to security of supply. This will consist of cheap British renewables such as the continued advancement and success of offshore wind in the North and Celtic Seas, increased investment into new nuclear power stations and hydrogen as clean energy. The transformation of the power sector will bring high skill, high wage job opportunities.

Heat and buildings: the phase out of gas boilers for the heating of homes and by 2035 no new gas boilers are to be sold. Installation of 600,000 heat pumps per year into households is targeted by 2028. It should be noted that alongside the Strategy, the government has published a paper dealing specifically with decarbonising heat and buildings in the UK (entitled the Heat and Buildings Strategy) which provides details on, inter alia, the following:

  • The Boiler Upgrade Scheme - a scheme launching in April 2022 designed to incentivise the deployment of heat pumps into existing buildings by providing grants of up to £6000 to homeowners.
  • Introduction of new regulations to ensure new homes and buildings will be fitted with low carbon heating.
  • Boosting funding by a further £800 million for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund which aims to improve the energy performance of low-income households.
  • Introduction of new regulations to ensure new homes and buildings will be fitted with low carbon heating and the rebalancing of energy costs to make electricity, and electric heat pumps, more affordable.


  • A zero-emission vehicle mandate guaranteeing a greater number of zero emissions vehicles on roads. This mandate requires manufacturers to scale up zero emission vehicle sales from 2024. This will help deliver on the twin commitments of: (i) no new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, and (ii) all cars on roads must be fully zero emissions capable by 2035.
  • A net zero railway network by 2050 and significant investment in rail electrification. Diesel-only trains to be removed by 2040.
  • Introduction of 4,000 new zero emission buses.
  • Kick starting the commercialisation of UK sustainable aviation fuel ("SAF") so as to enable delivery of 10% SAF by 2030.
  • Delivering real-time demonstrations and technology trials of clean maritime vessels and infrastructure to decarbonise the maritime sector.

Natural resources and waste:

  • Supporting low carbon farming and agricultural innovation to help increase productivity and more efficient use of land through the Farming Investment Fund and the Farming Innovation Programme.  
  • Treble woodland creation rates in England increasing planting rates to 30,000 hectares per year by the end of the parliamentary year and the near elimination of biodegradable waste to landfill from 2028.

The Strategy, and ultimately the project of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, has been touted by the Prime Minister as the greatest opportunity for jobs and prosperity for the UK since the industrial revolution. Other than providing huge opportunity, it is also necessary for the prosperity of the planet.


Although only recently published, the Strategy has already been met with both positive and negative reviews and it will be interesting to see how these unfold at COP 26 and thereafter. Proponents of the Strategy applaud it as a positive step in providing greater detail on the governments ambitions and policies which are sought to be implemented to achieve the net zero target by 2050. On the other hand, critics of the Strategy are sceptical of the following: (i) the financing of the Strategy - there appears to be a considerable funding gap that needs closing in order to achieve the net zero target by 2050. It seems that there will be a heavy reliance on private sector innovation as well as the public purse, and (ii) some suggest the Strategy does little more than restate the ten-point plan, and what is now crucial is turning words and promises into deeds and action, which the Strategy falls short on.

That the UK has submitted its second LT-LED ahead of COP 26 puts it in a strong negotiating position with its partners as the race to net zero continues and opportunities for green growth and prosperity fully emerge. The UK now not only has a clear target destination of net zero by 2050, but also a vessel (albeit in paper-form) for reaching it.


[1] Available at .

[2] The "Conference of the Parties" is the decision making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that nearly all countries have ratified and by doing so they recognise that climate change is an important  issue and agree to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions.


[3] The Climate Change Act 2008, as amended in 2019, provides for the legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050 as well carbon budgets every five years.


[4] The UK has committed to reaching this target by 2030.


[5] .

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