On 2 May 2019 the Committee on Climate Change have given historic advice to the UK Government to reach a net zero emissions target by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target.
We welcome this, but as the report itself says, this is the bare minimum.
The report advises the government to set a legally binding net zero emissions target of 2050, compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target. It includes all greenhouse gasses (not just carbon), includes shipping and aviation, does not permit international offsetting, and will cost around the same amount that we are delivering our current (80%) target with.
We must adopt this advice and set a legally binding target for a future where the UK no longer contributes to climate change. Britain has a chance to be a world leader in cutting our emissions, to protect the people, places, and life we love. Net zero emissions is already supported by the majority of the British public, as well as businesses, farmers, scientists, and the rest of the world alike who support us in undertaking this necessary journey.
However, it also says that to show leadership and be fair we must reach net zero considerably before 2050, and provide substantial help to poor and developing nations to help them decarbonise. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution the UK has large historical emissions, and, through our consumption, we are responsible for emissions produced abroad which aren’t included in domestic figures
Summary of the report’s recommendations
The Committee’s report, requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018, finds that:
- The foundations are in place throughout the UK and the policies required to deliver key pillars of a net-zero economy are already active or in development. These include: a supply of low-carbon electricity (which will need to quadruple by 2050), efficient buildings and low-carbon heating (required throughout the UK’s building stock), electric vehicles (which should be the only option from 2035 or earlier), developing carbon capture and storage technology and low-carbon hydrogen (which are a necessity not an option), stopping biodegradable waste going to landfill, phasing-out potent fluorinated gases, increasing tree planting, and measures to reduce emissions on farms. However, these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.
- Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050. The Committee’s conclusion that the UK can achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost is entirely contingent on the introduction without delay of clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed. Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land.
- The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable but they must be fairly distributed. Rapid cost reductions in essential technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles mean that a net-zero greenhouse gas target can be met at an annual cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to 2050. However, the costs of the transition must be fair, and must be perceived as such by workers and energy bill payers. The Committee recommends that the Treasury reviews how the remaining costs of achieving net- zero can be managed in a fair way for consumers and businesses.
There are multiple benefits of the transition to a zero-carbon economy, the Committee’s report shows. These include benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles, more active travel thanks to increased rates of cycling and walking, healthier diets, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.
In addition, the UK could receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.
Download the report here: