Climate change: How Boris Johnson's 2035 emissions target really is the bare minimum

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

Given what we’ve known for many years now about the pace of warming on the planet, the proposed 78% cut in carbon emissions by 2035 is the bare minimum necessary to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.It was the only choice available to any government that wanted to maintain any credibility when it comes to a sustainable future.But that shouldn’t detract from the political ambition in today’s announcement.No government has promised to go further, faster in cutting emissions than this one.

The group Extinction Rebellion has called on the government to declare a climate emergency. Credit: PA

As well as preparing society for what lies ahead, it sends a strong signal to other nations about what one leading economy believes is achievable ahead of the critical climate change summit in Glasgow at the end of the year.But it’s a meaningless pledge both at home, and on the diplomatic stage, unless the UK can lead the way, not just point to it.Take electric cars.

  • ITV News Science Editor analyses the new government emissions target

Tuesday's pledge requires something like 43% of all cars on the road to be electric by 2030.

That’s just nine years from now and electric cars currently make up just 1% of the nation’s fleet.Now, few predicted the speed at which the car industry would pivot towards electric, and with the right incentives it’s possible to imagine those cars being manufactured and sold.

More than 2,700 new electric vehicles were registered last month Credit: John Walton/PA

What is much harder is integrating them with society. Where will people who live in flats charge their electric cars? Who will pay for a public charging network that’s fast and affordable enough to keep the country moving.

Or failing that where will the investment in public transport come from to make it possible for us to rely on cars less in such a short space of time?On the subject of hard, what about housing?

Currently around 85% of homes are heated by a gas boiler. Their emissions make up nearly 20% of our total carbon budget.

A plumber working on a gas boiler. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Archive

Between now and 2050 all of them will have to be replaced and the energy efficiency of 29 million homes improved.

One analysis by the UK Green Building Council suggests we’ll need to retrofit 1.8 homes every minute between now and 2050 to meet that target.And the most recent policy to deliver retrofitting.

They “Green Homes Grant” was scrapped last month as a total failure.For that reason we have to reserve judgment on today’s announcement. From now on it’s the government’s actions not it’s words that will count.