UK Becomes First Major Nation To Legislate Net Zero Emissions 

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The United Kingdom has become the first major economy to legislate long-term climate targets this week as outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May announced new legislation on Wednesday which will enshrine into law a net zero emissions by 2050 target.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May
Image Credit: UK Government

Even as she is effectively being pushed out the door of Number 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Theresa May is looking to leave some legacy behind her — other than the catastrophic handling of the UK’s “Brexit” negotiations. Announced on Wednesday, Theresa May said that she would introduce a statutory instrument in Parliament to amend the Climate Change Act of 2008 to enter into law a commitment to “eradicate” the country’s “contribution to climate change by 2050.”

According to the UK government, this legislation is the first among G7 nations and is expected to encourage other major economies to follow the UK’s lead. The UK will also conduct a further assessment within 5 years to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action, in turn multiplying the effect of the UK’s leadership and ensuring that the country’s industries do not face unfair competition.

“As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change. We have made huge progress in growing our economy and the jobs market while slashing emissions,” said Prime Minister Theresa May. “Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.

“Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”

“We want to continue our global leadership and that’s why we are introducing a legally binding net zero target to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050,” added Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark. “The report we commissioned from the Committee on Climate Change makes clear that we have laid the foundations to achieve a net zero emissions economy, and that it is necessary and feasible.

“Almost 400,000 people are already employed in the low-carbon sector and its supply chains across the country. Through our modern Industrial Strategy we’re investing in clean growth to ensure we reap the rewards and create two million high quality jobs by 2030.”

Night time traffic in LondonUnsurprisingly, Prime Minister May’s announcement was praised by environmental groups, though not without a measure of hesitancy over the target’s timing.

“It’s a historic day when the country that introduced carbon-based industrialisation to the world announces that it will no longer contribute to climate change,” said Christian Aid’s Global Climate Lead, Dr Alison Doig.

“The world is facing a climate emergency and the only way we will solve it is by countries going net zero.

“But today’s announcement does not go far enough. We urge Parliament to push the government towards a target of 2045 at the very latest. Christian Aid firmly believes 2045 is the latest point at which we can safely reach net zero greenhouse-gas emissions. The poorest people on the front lines of climate breakdown cannot wait while we drag our heels – despite being least to blame, they are suffering the consequences now.” – Doig

“In a country as politically split as the UK, climate action is a unifier: the prime minister, the contenders to be her successor, opposition parties, and the UK’s devolved nations all agree that we must end our contribution to climate change,” added Dustin Benton, Policy Director for the UK’s Green Alliance.

“The UK has moved first – and we should be proud – but the rest of the world is following fast. If ever there was a reason to be the host of the pivotal 2020 climate conference, this move to be the first major economy to legislate for net zero is it.

“Legislating for net zero means we now have to deliver it: if the UK is to get on track, and to benefit from all the upsides of clean growth, we need a budget and spending review that is equal to the challenge.” – Benton

Prime Minister May’s announcement also added a nearly hidden paragraph explaining that the UK retains “the ability to use international carbon credits” adding that “Using international credits within an appropriate monitoring, reporting, and verification framework is the right thing to do for the planet, allowing the UK to maximize the value of each pound spent on climate change mitigation.” This has been seen by some as creating a damaging loophole which could create life difficult for developing nations.

“This is a big moment for everyone in the climate movement and particularly to the youth climate strikers, who rightly should advise on future climate and environmental policy,” explained Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist for Greenpeace UK.

“Judging by the headline, this is a legacy Theresa May can be proud of. Judging by the small print, this is a net zero target with a backstop. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution, it is right that the UK is the world’s first major economy to commit to completely end its contribution to climate change, but trying to shift the burden to developing nations through International Carbon Credits undermines that commitment. This type of offsetting has a history of failure and is not, according to the government’s climate advisors, cost-efficient.

“While the loopholes being woven into the legislation by the Treasury will need to be unpicked, and the date moved forward, this decision fires the starting gun for a fundamental transformation of our economy. The Government must immediately upgrade our electricity, construction, heating, agriculture and transport systems. They must cancel the Heathrow 3rd runway and road-building plans, and invest public money and provide significant policy support to protect communities, workers and the planet. It’s now official – in a climate emergency, business as usual is no longer an option.” – Parr

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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