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New UK Government carbon emission targets are welcome but moving to a circular economy is key

Talk of seismic shifts in the news agenda this week may well have been referring to a new football European Super League, but the UK Government’s get-tough approach to carbon emissions and bringing forward emissions targets are a significant declaration of intent.  

Iain Gulland | 23 Apr 21

Additionally, yesterday’s news from the White House, confirmed the US will aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by between 50% and 52% by 2030, based on 2005 levels, meant it’s been a significant week as we tackle climate change.  

President Biden said that the world’s largest economies must “step up”, adding that we face an “existential crisis”. He is correct to say this.  

He added that we have a moral and economic imperative to cut carbon emissions but that the challenge also presented extraordinary possibilities.

The President’s position is a marked and welcome re-set by the US, and it is to be hoped that the words will be backed with action. 

Earlier this week, the UK enshrined in law a new target to cut emission by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. 

The UK’s sixth Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions for the first time and aims to bring the UK more than three-quarters of the way to net zero by 2050, in line with the recommendation from the independent Climate Change Committee.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the new target when he addressed the opening session of the Summit on Climate, hosted by President Biden on Earth Day (22 April).  The UK Government is positioning itself as a driver of ambitious emissions reductions ahead of the United Nations COP26 summit to be held in Glasgow in November.  

The UK is already committed to 68% cuts by 2030, but the further reduction by 2035 sees the Government fulfilling the legal obligations set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act. 

Whilst all of this has quite rightly filled the news agenda the focus on emission reduction still avoids the need to reduce our consumption of raw materials as neither the US nor the UK really appear to be taking this into account.  

In Scotland, we already work to ambitious targets in reducing our emissions (we have a target of 75% reduction by 2030) but the single greatest cause of the climate crisis here and much of the world, is the carbon emissions created by everything we produce, consume and too often bin after just one use. The climate crisis is really all about wastefulness after all. We need to make things last by reducing, reusing, repairing, remaking - and finally - recycling everything

Four-fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint come from products and materials. The production, consumption and waste of these products and materials are heating the earth at an alarming rate. This includes the energy needed to grow, make, process and transport them, whether they are made here in Scotland or elsewhere. Climate change doesn’t respect borders and it affects everyone. 

By moving to a circular economy, we keep the value of the materials we use and avoid producing more waste. We can be more resilient by reducing demand for the extraction of raw resources and for waste disposal. 

We will continue to work with colleagues in the UK and elsewhere to drive emissions down, but unless everyone understands that we must use less “stuff”, we really are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.  

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