Climate change is already causing severe weather events, sea-level rise, and loss of biodiversity, and it is projected to have even more devastating effects in the future if emissions are not reduced. Countries are trying to achieve net zero by 2030 as a response to this global challenge. By achieving net zero, countries aim to reduce their carbon footprint and limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.

The UK as a whole is now targeting to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, not 2030. While London has its own ambitious target to become a zero-carbon city by 2030, it is still part of the larger UK effort. Reaching this goal is a complex and challenging goal that requires the cooperation and commitment of all levels of government, businesses, and individuals. While London has taken steps towards reducing its carbon footprint, achieving net zero by 2030 would be a significant challenge for the city and would require a substantial acceleration of current efforts.

What is the London’s Plan to Achieve ‘Net Zero’ by 2030?

London, as one of the world’s largest cities, is also one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. However, the city is taking significant steps to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2030. According to a recent City Hall report, the Mayor’s London Plan policy nearly halved emissions from proposed new developments when compared to levels required to meet national Building Regulations. This equates to 32,000 return flights from London to New York.

The Mayor has chosen the Accelerated Green Pathway as his preferred path to net zero energy. Among other things, accomplishing this will necessitate:

  • A nearly 40% reduction in total heat demand for buildings, necessitating the proper insulation of over 2 million homes and a quarter-million non-domestic buildings.
  • By 2030, London will have 2.2 million heat pumps in operation.
  • By 2030, 460,000 buildings will be connected to district heating networks.
  • By 2030, car vehicle km traveled will be reduced by 27%.
  • Fossil fuel car and van sales will be phased out by 2030, in accordance with the government’s existing commitments.

What steps the city has taken so far to reduce emissions and tackle climate change?

  1. Switching to renewable energy sources: One of the main ways that London is reducing emissions is by switching to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power. The city has invested in energy-efficient technologies and infrastructure, including electric vehicle charging stations, to reduce emissions from transportation. Since London’s buildings account for a large proportion of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions – nearly 70% in 2020 – implementing new development planning policies remains a significant and successful step towards reducing emissions. The use of heat pumps, district heating networks, and solar panels can also provide building occupants with lower long-term energy bills, allowing businesses to manage their operating costs and residents to feel warmer for less.
  • Promoting sustainable transport: Another key part of London’s plan to achieve ‘net zero’ is to promote sustainable transportation. The city is encouraging the use of public transportation and active travel such as cycling and walking to reduce emissions from personal transportation. London is investing in low-emission buses and taxis to improve air quality and reduce emissions from road transportation. The city is also investing in electric vehicle charging infrastructure to make it easier for people to switch to electric vehicles.
  • Green spaces and buildings: London is investing in green spaces and buildings to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The city is promoting sustainable construction practices and retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy-efficient, which will help reduce emissions from energy use. London is also investing in green roofs and walls to increase the amount of green space in the city, which will help to absorb carbon dioxide and improve air quality.
  • Decarbonising industry and commerce: Another important part of London’s plan to achieve ‘net zero’ is to decarbonise industry and commerce. The city is working with businesses to reduce emissions from energy use, waste, and transportation. London is also promoting the development of low-carbon products and services, which will help to reduce emissions from industry and commerce.

What is the UK government’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2050?

The UK government committed in June 2019 to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050, and its Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener outlined decarbonisation policies aimed at achieving net zero emissions by that date. However, immediate action is required, and the government’s plan commits to reducing emissions by at least 68% by 2030. Some of the key measures being taken include:

  1. Decarbonising electricity generation: The UK government aims to increase the share of renewable energy sources in electricity generation and phase out the use of fossil fuels. This is being done through the development of wind, solar, and tidal energy projects. The government has also set a target for 50% of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. The UK electricity sector has been rapidly decarbonising in recent years, as consistent policy has supported renewables deployment and driven coal out of the electricity mix. Meanwhile generation from zero carbon sources reached 55% in 2021, with 40% of this coming from renewables.
  1. Improving energy efficiency: The UK is working to improve the energy efficiency of homes, businesses, and public buildings. This includes measures such as insulation and double glazing to reduce heat loss, and the installation of more energy-efficient heating and lighting systems. The government has also introduced the Green Deal, which provides financing for energy-efficient home improvements.
  1. Promoting electric vehicles: The UK government is supporting the uptake of electric vehicles by providing charging infrastructure and financial incentives. This includes the installation of charging points in homes, businesses, and public places, as well as the provision of grants and tax incentives for electric vehicle purchases. The Government has also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel heavy goods vehicles by 2040, with sales of smaller trucks banned by 2035. The Government has already allocated 19 million to support small-scale trials of different zero-carbon HGV options and announced an additional 200m to support a three-year programme of further trials.
  1. Encouraging low-carbon transportation: The UK is promoting the use of low-carbon transportation options, such as cycling and public transport, to reduce emissions from road transport. The government has made a range of commitments to help decarbonise transport. This includes ending the sale of fossil fuel cars and vans by 2030 and fossil fuelled HGVs by 2035–40, support to make bus services faster and more reliable, and support for cycling infrastructure. As a result, 46% of the emissions reductions required is now covered by credible policy in the transport sector.
  1. Reducing emissions from industry: The UK is working to reduce emissions from heavy industry, including through the use of carbon capture and storage technology. This involves the capture of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes and their storage in underground reservoirs. The government has also introduced a carbon pricing system to incentivize companies to reduce their emissions. The Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy sets a target of 50 TWh of fossil fuels to be replaced by low-carbon alternatives in 2035. This is roughly a third of fossil consumption in 2021. To support this target, the government introduced the Industrial Decarbonisation and Hydrogen Revenue Support (IDHRS) scheme. However, more action is needed to drive industrial resource efficiency, in both the production and consumption of goods.
  1. Planting trees and restoring peatlands: The UK has one of the lowest level of forest cover in Europe, at 13%. The Government has set a target of planting 30,000 ha/y by 2025, which is aligned with the CCC’s recommendations. This would need to rise further to 50,000 ha/y by the mid-2030s. The UK government is supporting the planting of trees and the restoration of peatlands to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The government has set a target to plant 11 million trees by 2023 and is working to restore degraded peatlands to their natural state. Over 80% of UK afforestation takes place in Scotland, which recently updated its tree-planting targets from 12,000 ha/yr to 18,000 ha/yr by 2024/5. Meanwhile, Wales aims to plant 43,000 ha of new forest by 2030.

Will these goals be achieved?

The UK’s current policies have recently been reviewed by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), in its annual progress report. This review identified that, although substantial progress has been made in developing UK climate policy, significant policy gaps remain. It has been recently stated that the United Kingdom’s current policies are “almost sufficient” when compared to modelled domestic pathways. Current policies are expected to reduce emissions by 2030, representing a 58-63% reduction from 1990 levels. There are clear policies in some areas, as well as credible delivery mechanisms and funding. However, critical gaps continue to exist, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency and demand reduction.

Researchers claim that the UK is not on track to meet its proposed climate goals. The UK’s climate policies and actions are not yet consistent with keeping global warming to 1.5°C, but with slight changes, they might be in line with a 1.5°C predicted domestic route. Warming might be kept below—but not substantially below—2°C if other nations adopted the UK’s strategy, following a consistent, internationally cost-effective road.