The government’s chief adviser on climate change has warned that the prime minister’s plan to eliminate Britain’s contribution to global warming will fail unless cuts to greenhouse gases are dramatically stepped up.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the committee on climate change, told Sky News the government is slipping behind the existing target of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050 – and meeting Theresa May’s pledge of reducing them to zero is a distant prospect.

He said: I am concerned. The present set of policies we have in the UK, the present reaction from government, isn’t enough.

We absolutely recommend a tougher target because the science demands it.

But unless there is a plan alongside that to meet it, one that ups the ambition in every sector of the economy, in every department of government, at every layer of government, that target is unachievable.

Mrs May announced earlier this month that she would introduce legislation committing the UK to reducing greenhouse gases to almost zero by 2050 – and offset unavoidable emissions from aviation and some other sources by planting trees or using technology to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But it will be up to the next prime minister to put a plan into action.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientist, told Sky News it would be a mistake if the next prime minster was sceptical.

He said: I don’t think that would be the situation. I don’t think there are senior politicians in this country, in positions of power, who think like that.

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But a poll by Sky Data suggests the public is unconvinced about the action needed to reduce their carbon footprint.

While 68% are concerned about climate change, just 51% think people need to fly less and 35% think they need to cut back on meat to reduce their carbon footprint.

In a report earlier this year, the committee on climate change stopped short of recommending a switch to a flexitarian diet because of a lack of public support.

But it did warn flying must not increase significantly above today’s levels if the zero carbon target is to be achieved.

Mr Stark said there is no reason to be scared of the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Most people are not driven every day of their lives by climate change and therefore we need to help them to get the solutions that reduce emissions as well as improve their lives more generally, he said.

Most people don’t want to be climate change champions so we should be explaining the fundamentals beneath this – a better transport system, a warmer home, and a job that’s zero carbon.

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(c) Sky News 2019: Climate change adviser says PM’s plan will fail unless it is dramatically stepped up