The UK is an international leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but is not acting alone, according to a new report published today (3 March 2014) by the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

The study by Samuela Bassi, Sam Fankhauser, Fergus Green and Michal Nachmany compared the UK’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with those of its competitors within and outside the European Union. The UK’s fourth carbon budget, which requires a cut in annual emissions by 50 per cent by 2025 compared with 1990, is currently being reviewed by the Government after claims that it was more ambitious than the action planned by other countries.

The report concludes: “We find that the UK remains a global leader in the way it tackles climate change, but is by no means acting alone.”

“The overall picture is one in which the UK is part of a leading group of countries taking legislative action to tackle climate change. This leading group includes most of the UK’s main trading partners.”

The international comparison of the UK with other countries was based on the strength of targets for reducing greenhouse gases, climate-related legislation, and carbon prices.

The analysis showed that the fourth carbon budget is consistent with the target the UK is likely to be set under effort-sharing arrangements, based on the principle that the richest countries per head of population should cut their emissions fastest, to achieve a European Union goal of reducing annual emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990.

The study also found that all of the UK’s main trading partners and competitors, except Turkey, have set quantified reduction or limitation targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

China has made a commitment to reduce its emissions per unit of GDP, or carbon intensity, by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared with 2005, which is more ambitious than the UK’s implied target of cutting its carbon intensity by 39 per cent over the same period.

The study points out that some developed countries outside the European Union, such as the United States, have adopted short-term or medium-term targets that are less ambitious than those of the UK. However, it also notes that the United States has pledged to reduce its emissions by 83 per cent by 2050 compared with 2005, while the UK’s long-term goal means a cut of 76 per cent over the same period.

In addition, the study draws attention to a survey which identified 61 countries other than the UK that have introduced legal provisions to establish the basis for action on climate change.

Carbon prices paid by businesses and households in the UK were also found to be in the middle to upper end of a global range, rather than at the top.

The study states: “Climate ambition has to be assessed relative to a country’s economic capabilities and international responsibilities. We found that, across the measures used, developed countries typically have more ambitious targets, more extensive legislative and institutional arrangements, and higher carbon prices.”

“However, we find increasingly ambitious commitments – especially post-2009 – across all three measures from the major emerging (and high-emitting) economies. Increasingly, countries like Brazil, China, India, Mexico and others are committing, planning, legislating and pricing greenhouse gas emissions to a significant degree.”

“The UK is ahead of its competitors in one aspect: its forward planning. Few other countries are preparing for the 2020s to the same degree as the UK is through the fourth carbon budget. Such longer term thinking is laudable and a deliberate feature of the Climate Change Act. It provides greater certainty and forward guidance for investors.”

Notes for editors

  1. The ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy ( is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council ( The Centre’s mission is to advance public and private action on climate change through rigorous, innovative research.
  2. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment ( was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (
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