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UK net zero strategy explained

Stephen Cousins

As world leaders attempt to thrash out a coordinated response to climate change at COP26, Britain's routemap to net zero lays out how each sector of British economy will reduce emissions

As world leaders attempt to thrash out a coordinated response to climate change at COP26, the UK government’s net zero strategy sets out Britain’s own pathway to decarbonisation up to 2050…

The long-term strategy aims to deliver on commitments made in the prime minister Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and covers policies, measures and market incentives needed to enable the UK to cut emissions by at least 68% on 1990 levels by 2030, then deliver a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.

The routemap covers emissions reductions in each sector of the economy, with remaining emissions hoovered up using greenhouse gas removals, such as trees and peatland, or technological carbon capture.

Subsidised air source heat pump installation should form part of the UK’s drive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Credit: Shutterstock
Subsidised air source heat pump installation should form part of the UK’s drive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Credit: Shutterstock

The government has committed to fully decarbonise the power system by 2035, ‘subject to security of supply’. There is a pledge to deliver 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, plus extra onshore, solar and other renewables, and to move towards 1GW of floating offshore wind by 2030 to put the UK at the forefront of this new technology. A final investment decision on a large-scale nuclear plant will be made by the end of this parliament, with a new £120 million Future Nuclear Enabling Fund also planned.

Fuel supply and hydrogen

Low carbon energy is required for sectors where electrification is not viable. The government has pledged to deliver 5GW of hydrogen production capacity and halve emissions from oil and gas by 2030, as well as mobilise £20-30 billion additional public and private investment before 2037. A new industrial Decarbonisation and Hydrogen Revenue Support Scheme has been set up, with up to £140 million of initial investment, to fund new hydrogen and industrial carbon capture business models.

Heat and buildings

Heating for homes and offices comprises almost a third of all UK carbon emissions. The strategy targets an end to the sale of new gas boilers by 2035, replacing them with low-carbon technologies, like electric heat pumps or hydrogen boilers. A new £450 million, three-year boiler upgrade scheme will see households offered grants of up to £5,000 to buy low-carbon heating systems. A new £60 million Heat Pump Ready funding programme will support the government’s target for 600,000 installations a year by 2028.

In addition, there is £1.75 billion of funding for the social housing decarbonisation scheme and home upgrade grants, plus an additional £1.425 billion for public sector decarbonisation, intended to cut emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037. The outcome of a forthcoming hydrogen village trial will inform a decision on the role of hydrogen in the heating system, by 2026.

The government investments aim to mobilise additional public and private investment of around £220 billion, in line with the 2037 delivery pathway.

Credit: Shutterstock


Four carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) clusters will be set up able to capture 20-30 Mt of CO2 across the economy, including 6 Mt of industrial emissions per year, by 2030. A £315 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund will help industries make the transition to clean energy.


A zero emission vehicle mandate commits the government to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and make all cars fully zero emissions capable by 2035. A total £620 million is being provided for zero emission vehicle grants and EV Infrastructure, plus £350 million towards a £1 billion Automotive Transformation Fund to support the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains. Recent zero emission road freight trials will be expanded to trial three zero emission HGV technologies at scale on UK roads.

A £2 billion investment aims to help enable half of journeys in UK towns and cities to be cycled or walked by 2030, £3 billion will go towards creating integrated bus networks, more frequent services and bus lanes.

On aviation, the government plans to enable the delivery of 10% sustainable aviation fuel by 2030 and will provide £180 million funding for the development of SAF plants.

Natural resources and waste

The strategy aims to treble woodland creation rates and increase tree planting rates to 30,000 ha per year by the end of this parliament. A policy roadmap will aim to increase the use of timber in construction in England by:

  • Providing financial support to develop innovative timber products through the Forestry Innovation Fund
  • Working with key construction stakeholders, including the Green Construction Board, Construction Leadership Council, the Home Builders Federation and the Federation of Master Builders to develop a policy roadmap on use of timber
  • Driving an increase in the use of certain modern methods of construction, some forms of which can encourage use of sustainable materials such as timber
  • Working with Homes England and delivery partners to explore ways to increase timber use in the delivery of housing programmes
  • Increasing public demand for sustainably sourced timber through procurement policies.

The government will create a cross-government and industry working group to identify ways to increase timber use and reduce embodied carbon. It aims to improve reporting on embodied carbon in buildings with a view to exploring a maximum level for new builds in the future.

Greenhouse gas removals

Greenhouse gas removals will balance residual emissions from difficult to decarbonise sectors such as aviation, agriculture and heavy industry. The government has an ambition to deploy at least 5 million tonnes CO2 /year of engineered GGRs by 2030, with an initial £100 million of investment in GGR innovation.

New green jobs and skills are required to deliver a net zero economy. The government plans to publish sector and supply chain development plans for key low carbon sectors.

In the construction and heating sectors, up to 230,000 skilled trades people could be required in 2030 to retrofit houses and to meet a strategy ambition to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. The number of qualified installers will need to rise from around 3,000 today to 35,000 within the next seven years.


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