Climate needs 'firm plans not just fine words'

The US and UK have ambitious targets to tackle carbon emissions - the questions many experts have is who will pay and how the plans will be implemented.

Wind turbine
President Joe Biden promised much-anticipated and - during the Trump administration - much-delayed US -  action on climate change as he hosted a virtual Earth Day summit of 40 world leaders on Thursday.

UK climate target: a 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035

But one of those leaders - Prime Minister Boris Johnson - had rather upstaged the summit 24 hours earlier by announcing a new UK target to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.Mr Johnson Johnson told the summit that 2021 must be the year countries "get serious" about tackling climate change."The UK has shown that it's possible to slash emissions while growing the economy, which makes the question of reaching net zero not so much technical as political," he said."If we actually want to stop climate change, then this must be the year in which we get serious about doing so."Because the 2020s will be remembered either as the decade in which world leaders united to turn the tide, or as a failure."Mr Boris urged foreign leaders to present ambitious targets and practical plans at both the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November and at the October meeting in China aimed at addressing declines in nature.However, while the UK's 78% cut within 14 years is accepted as an ambitious target, there remain doubts about how it will practically be achieved.

UK climate target: "an eye-catchingly large number"

David Shukman, science editor at BBC News, described the target as "an eye-catchingly large number", but added, "The more ambitious a target, the greater the scrutiny about whether the government is doing the right things to deliver it."The question I keep hearing from experts in the field is, 'Where’s the plan?', meaning the policies on everything from heat pumps to hydrogen, charging points to loft insulation."Strategy documents are promised in the coming months and they should spell out the answers but most have been delayed. Perhaps the most important is one by the Treasury which will set out the financial arrangements – basically, answering the crucial question of who pays?"

CBI: the proposal puts the UK on a credible path to achieve a net-zero emission target by 2050

However, Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the proposal put the UK on a credible path to achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.“As COP26 hosts, the UK government is leading by example by setting this stretching target," she said."Business stands ready to deliver with the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that are driving emissions down every year. By tackling this together, we can reap the benefits of transition to a low-carbon economy.“The target emphasises the importance of the 2020s as a decade of delivery on our climate ambitions, and urgent action is needed now to make this a reality.”

Climate: President Biden intends to take action

Meanwhile in Washington, Mr Biden has already made it plain that he intends to take action to cut emissions by the world's second biggest polluter.On his first day in office, he reinstated US membership of the Paris climate accord and paused gas and oil drilling leases on federal land.John Kerry, the new US climate envoy, has already succeeded in getting outline agreement with Beijing on how the countries might work together to cut emissions.Now the difficult part is going to be transforming laudable aims into practical action.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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