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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

May 2021 – A new report from University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership analyses the progress the UK has made towards reducing emissions and meeting its 2030 targets, and looks at the role that policy and clear, sector-specific ambitions have played in supporting the transition.

Read the briefing

The new briefing, which draws on insights from the UK Corporate Leaders Group, examines how much progress has been made towards reducing emissions in four key sectors – power and energy, built environment, road transport, and agriculture and land use. It examines why some of these sectors continue to lag behind and how they need to evolve, drawing insights from business leadership in those sectors – looking at the different experiences and challenges in each sector.

For each sector, this briefing looks at the role that policy and clear, sector-specific ambitions have played in supporting the transition. The analysis in this briefing identifies barriers to progress, including the absence of sufficiently ambitious sector-specific targets and strategies, lack of policy initiatives, regulatory constraints, failure to instigate change effectively through policy interventions, and where lessons may be applied from the faster transition that has been achieved in the energy sector. It examines the action undertaken by business and where further action is required, using business case studies (see Annex B: Case studies) to illustrate what businesses have been doing to facilitate progress, where business action has made a substantial difference, and where the barriers to business action continue to limit their ability to drive positive change.

The insights from this briefing will be used by CISL’s UK Corporate Leaders Group to provide recommendations for how to bridge the gap between where these sectors are now and where they need to get to

Key findings of the report:

  • The scale of action by UK businesses is impressive. Since the start of 2020, there has been a four-fold increase in the number of UK businesses committing to the Science Based Targets initiative, and there are numerous further examples of large, medium and small businesses committing to reduce emissions individually or as part of sector-led plans. See Annex A. 
  • The analysis shows that the current level of ambition and commitment from business is not yet enough to deliver a resilient, net zero future.
  •  In some sectors like power, change is well underway, supported by effective business action, and the main need is to step up the pace and ambition of action
  • In transport, business and policy ambition are coming together to drive change but there is further to go on both fronts as progress to date has been slow
  • In the buildings sector, despite significant business action and a wide range of initiatives the overall pace of change is slow, with limited and unstable policy support.
  • In agriculture, there are strong examples of leadership, but business has not come together as a force for systemic change, and promising policy ambitions need to be urgently transformed into action. 

Citing this report

Please refer to this publication as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2021). UK business and policy leadership for net zero: analysis of progress to reduce emissions.

Read more about UK business in the SBTi Business Ambition for 1.5 campaign.

Read the business case studies that illustrate what businesses have been doing to facilitate progress.

Published May 2021

Author and Acknowledgements

This report was prepared by Sanna Markkanen, Bruce Horton, Beverley Cornaby and Eliot Whittington, with support from Serena Liuni and Isabelle Cross.

This report has been prepared by CISL’s Centre for Policy and Industrial Transformation in consultation with members of the Corporate Leaders Group UK (CLG UK). We would like to acknowledge CLG UK members, CISL colleagues and external reviewers for their constructive comments and feedback on this briefing. We would also like to thank our case study companies for their inputs.


Copyright © 2021 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.