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Zero Carbon Sooner—Revised case for an early zero carbon target for the UK

Zero Carbon Sooner—Revised case for an early zero carbon target for the UK

Cover image: Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ in Liverpool; photographed by Donald Judge / flickr.com (CC-BY 2.0); modified


This paper is an update of an earlier briefing note[1], revised to take account of new findings from the IPCC’s updated 6th Assessment Report (AR6). The broad aim of the paper is to establish how soon the UK should aim for (net) zero carbon emissions. The paper first derives a ‘fair remaining carbon budget’ for the UK. It then analyses a variety of emission pathways and target dates for their adequacy in terms of remaining within this budget.

A first key finding is that a target date for zero carbon is not sufficient in itself to determine whether the UK remains within its carbon budget. Policy must specify both a target date and an associated emissions pathway. A second key finding is that the sufficiency of these targets and pathways depends crucially on whether emissions are accounted for on a ‘territorial’ basis or on a ‘consumption’ basis.

For a linear reduction pathway not to exceed the remaining carbon budget the net zero target year would have to be between 2027 and 2032, depending on the accounting framework. For a target year of 2050, the average rate of emission reductions must lie in the range 17-27% if the UK’s fair budget is not to be exceeded. As measured on a consumption basis, these rates would require absolute reductions approaching 95% of current carbon emissions as early as 2030. Consequently, this paper argues in favour of setting a UK target for net zero carbon emissions no later than 2035, with a maximum of around 5% of the mitigation effort achieved through negative emission technologies.


The full working paper is available for download in pdf (1.4MB). | Jackson T 2021. Zero Carbon Sooner…

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