UK could become the first major economy to stop contributing to climate change

The government is not ‘immediately accepting’ the recommendations set out in the new and radical ‘Net Zero’ report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – so said a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). But Energy Secretary Greg Clark was nevertheless enthusiastic: ‘This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.’

Capping a couple of weeks in which climate change was the biggest story in the news, publication of the CCC report: Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, showed the way forward for the UK to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions effectively to zero by 2050. It recommends a quadrupling of the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources; more energy efficient buildings and low carbon heating systems; electric as the only option for vehicles from 2035; and the development of both carbon capture and storage and low carbon hydrogen technologies. 

The report says that the necessary policy foundations are already in place, but must be urgently strengthened – current policy will not deliver even existing emissions reduction targets.

Ten years after the Climate Change Act became law, now is the right moment to set a more ambitious goal, said the CCC, adding that achieving a net-zero target by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which the UK and the rest of the world signed in 2015.

Scotland has greater potential to remove pollution from its economy than the UK overall, and can credibly adopt a more ambitious target of reaching net-zero GHG emissions, compared to 1990 levels, by 2045, said the report. And Wales has slightly fewer opportunities, and should adopt a target for a 95% reduction by 2050.

A net-zero target would require a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, explained the CCC. It is referred to as ‘net’ as it would be met with some remaining sources of emissions offset by removals of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – by growing trees, for example.

The Committee says this is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change, with the global average temperature having already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes to the climate that are increasingly apparent. In the last ten years, pledges to reduce emissions by the countries of the world have reduced the forecast of global warming from above 4°C by the end of the century to around 3°C. Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to further limit the rise to 1.5°C.

The recommended targets are achievable with known technologies and should be put into law as soon as possible, the Committee says. Indeed, falls in cost for some of the key zero carbon technologies mean that achieving net zero is now possible within the economic cost that Parliament originally accepted when it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008.

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