In this article for Circular magazine, Dentons' Laura Mackett discusses the new UK statutory emissions target of Net Zero by 2050, including its background, amendments to the Climate Change Act, wide-reaching changes required to achieve Net Zero and what businesses should be thinking about now.

Achieving these targets will require a sharp ramping-up in policy and law-making, as well as major shifts in how we conduct our businesses and how we live our daily lives. Changes to existing environmental permits are likely to be required and reforms may be needed across entire permitting frameworks. Robust regulatory enforcement schemes will be necessary to implement new standards and phase-outs. Litigation may result from uncertainties. Increased policy and law-making may give NGOs greater opportunity to hold government and business to account via the courts.

Industrial lobbies will have increased opportunities to engage with – and shape – policy and legislative change. There may be the opportunity to take advantage of incentive schemes, capital subsidies, tax breaks, sectoral arrangements, long-term contracts and other mechanisms. Border-tariff adjustments could reflect the carbon content of imports and we are likely to see increased carbon disclosure requirements. Product and building standards will help drive the demand for low-carbon goods. Delivering Net Zero will require strong and well-integrated policy frameworks at UK and devolved levels, ensuring changes are clear, stable and investor-friendly. This is particularly important for policy areas that are partly or fully devolved, such as waste.

The next 30 years will bring risk as well as opportunities, domestically and in wider global transitions to low-carbon economies. Businesses will want to keep a close eye on – and, in some cases, influence or get ahead of – the changing landscape of law, policy and the demands of civil society, balancing the benefits against the risks of mistimed or stranded investments.

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