Climate change experts have been asked to advise the government on whether the UK should set a date for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will also advise on whether the UK needs to review its 2050 target of cutting emissions by at least 80% relative to 1990 levels, to meet commitments set out in the Paris Agreement.
Energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said the CCC would give “advice on a roadmap to a net zero economy, including how emissions might be reduced and the expected costs and benefits of doing so”.
The move comes after a UN report said countries must take “unprecedented” action to slash carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Limiting warming to 1.5C will require fast and far-reaching changes to power generation, industry, transport, buildings and potential shifts in lifestyle such as eating less meat.
It will also require action to take excess carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “On the global stage, the UK is driving forward action on climate change through our work at the UN and with our Commonwealth partners.
“To ensure that we continue to lead from the front, we are asking the experts to advise on targets for net zero emissions.”
Environmental campaigners welcomed the government’s net-zero move, but called for a commitment to the 1.5C goal.
Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate at WWF, said: “It’s time to act and, crucially, embrace the opportunities a green economy presents.
“Done right, this could be the biggest economic opportunity in history, driving innovation, job creation and better living standards.”
Ed Matthew from The Climate Coalition said: “It is not just the target that matters, it’s how fast we get there.
“The CCC must now ensure that this net-zero pathway is compliant with no more than 1.5C of warming.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said the announcement came as Government “slashes support for small scale renewables, scales back support for electric vehicles.
“This gaping contradiction is no accident – it is hypocrisy of the highest order, and an affront to those communities on which this government has forced the fracking industry,” she said.
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Tim Farron claimed the Tories had “lurched drastically away from supporting green technologies”.