Theresa May says UK cannot 'stand by' on climate change as she vows net-zero emissions by 2050
Ministers will be legally bound to end the UK's contribution to climate change by 2050 under a new target to be introduced by Theresa May.
In one of her final acts as Prime Minister, Mrs May will lay legislation in the House of Commons on Wednesday which commits the UK to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century.
The move - which comes despite warnings from Chancellor Philip Hammond about its economic cost - follows advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change, which said only a net-zero target would meet the UK's obligations under the Paris climate agreement.
Mrs May said: "As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change. We have made huge progress in growing our economy and the jobs market while slashing emissions.
"Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a clear, greener form of growth.
"Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations."
The UK is currently signed up to an 80% reduction in its carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.
But the Committee on Climate Change said a 100% cut was "technically possible, based on current consumer behaviours and known technologies", and could still be delivered "alongside improvements in people’s lives".
The Financial Times reported last week that Philip Hammond had written to Mrs May warning her that the cost of reducing emissions to net zero would be "well in excess of £1tn" - higher than £50bn a year cost cited by the CCC.
The Chancellor had warned that some industries could be left "economically competitive" and called for the implications of setting the target to be "better understood" before pressing ahead with the move.
According to the committee, which advises ministers on the latest climate science, the transition to net-zero will require a "major ramp-up and acceleration" in the UK's climate change policies, and require changes to wide areas of the economy including aviation, food production and energy production.
The committee also insisted the overhaul would still fall within the expected economic cost that was "accepted by Parliament when the existing 80% target was set".
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: "We want to continue our global leadership and that’s why we are introducing a legally binding net zero target to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050.
"The report we commissioned from the Committee on Climate Change makes clear that we have laid the foundations to achieve a net zero emissions economy, and that it is necessary and feasible."
Labour backed the move "in theory", but criticised the Government's existing record on climate change.
Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: "While this announcement is welcome in theory, in practice it comes from a Conservative Government that is off track to meet existing climate targets, that has no plans for legislation or investment needed to cut emissions, and that has dismantled the UK renewable energy sector while pushing fracking."
She added: "The Government is a bit like a marathon runner with the wrong shoes, the wrong diet and no training expecting to break the world record; it looks less like ambition and more like delusion."