The UK’s current target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 was set by the UK Climate Change Act in 2008. Ten years on, global focus on the need for climate change continues to intensify. On 12 June 2019, following recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) (see Net Zero, The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming and "Net Zero – Technical Report"), the UK government announced it will amend the UK emissions target to net zero GHG by 2050.

This commitment will be made legally binding through the Climate Change (Net Zero UK Carbon Account) Bill 2018–19, a Private Member’s Bill introduced into Parliament by MP Alex Chalk on 30 April 2019. Measures to achieve this radical and exemplary target will require drastic reductions to the emissions created by our homes, transport system, industries and agriculture and will affect everyone in the UK.

The UK could therefore become the first G7 country to legislate for net zero emissions. However, achieving the target will depend on other countries following the UK’s example.

In its report, the CCC state that, if the UK’s commitment was replicated globally in conjunction with "near-term reductions in emissions", this target would deliver a greater than 50 per cent chance of limiting the world’s temperature increase to 1.5C.

Prime Minister Theresa May has left it open for the UK to revisit the decision within five years to protect the UK from unfair competition from others taking no measures to cut their emissions. Scotland has committed to net zero emissions by 2045 and Wales has indicated it will reduce to net zero, despite the government suggesting a 95 per cent cut in emissions to take account of Wales farming industry.

It remains to be seen what steps the government will take to meet the targets. The construction industry emits a significant proportion of the overall GHG emissions and has a key part to play in ensuring the UK meets the new 2050 target. Clients can make a difference by taking a lead, working closely with their supply chains and adapting procurement policies that require GSG net-zero projects that can be operated and managed sustainably.

Such requirements will incentivise contractors and their supply chain to embed innovation in their businesses and embrace – or create – new working methods and materials. Some Tier 1 contractors are already adapting – including several who wrote to Theresa May supporting the UK’s commitment.

The background to the Bill and why MP Alex Chalk brought in the Bill are set out starkly in MP Alex Chalk’s speech to Parliament on 30 April: it is worth a read.

This article was first published on 1 July 2019 by Construction Law.