Skip to Content
Climate change

The UK plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050

Extinction rebellion protest in London
Extinction rebellion protest in LondonAP

It’s the most ambitious target set by any major economy.

The news: The UK government has set a new target of net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. “Net” zero means balancing emissions with carbon removal or carbon offsetting. The UK was already planning to cut emissions 80% by 2050, thanks to a 2008 law, but that legislation will be updated to reflect the more ambitious goal. Some other countries have been even more ambitious, including Finland, which has a 2035 target, and Norway, which aims to reach net zero by 2030. 

How will it achieve it? It won’t be easy. The UK was already not on track to hit its previous, easier target. The new target will require vast, wholesale changes to the UK’s economy and a huge effort by the country’s politicians, who are currently in crisis over Brexit.

For an idea of some of the needed changes, read the recent report from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which suggested phasing out all new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 and getting households to switch from natural gas to low-carbon alternatives.

Reaction: Despite the plan’s ambitious nature, many think it doesn’t go far enough. Climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has said that 2050 is too late to make a difference. Greenpeace praised the plan’s intent but told the Guardian that “trying to shift the burden to developing nations through international carbon credits undermines that commitment.”

But remember: The UK, responsible for 1.2% of global emissions, is dwarfed by China and the US, which make up nearly 40% of global emissions between them. Both will need to commit to reducing emissions drastically if there’s even a slim hope of avoiding going above 1.5 °C of global warming.

Sign up here to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech in our daily newsletter The Download.

Deep Dive

Climate change

China’s heat wave is creating havoc for electric vehicle drivers

The country is a leader in EV adoption, but extreme weather is exposing weaknesses in its charging infrastructure.

We must fundamentally rethink “net-zero” climate plans. Here are six ways.

Corporate climate plans are too often a mix of fuzzy math, flawed assumptions, and wishful thinking.

This is what’s keeping electric planes from taking off

Batteries could power planes, but weight will limit how far they fly.

The US agency in charge of developing fossil fuels has a new job: cleaning them up

The Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has a new name, new leaders, and a new mandate to meet Joe Biden’s climate goals.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.