May adopts CCC recommendations to end emissions by 2050

In one of her last acts as Prime Minister, Theresa May announced in June that the government will follow the advice from its Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and eradicate the UK's net contribution to climate change by 2050, amending the 2008 Climate Change Act in order to tackle the target. 

The government had commissioned this advice from the CCC last October – its report was published in May; see Energy World June 2019 for the findings.

The move means that the UK is on track to become the first G7 country to legislate for net zero emissions, with other major economies expected to follow suit. But the government is keen to see other major economies play their part – it will conduct an assessment within five years to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action, both to multiply the effect of the UK’s lead and to ensure that UK industries do not face unfair competition.

The government has also decided that young people will have the chance to shape future climate policy through a Youth Steering Group set up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and led by the British Youth Council. This will advise government on priorities for environmental action and give a view on progress against existing commitments on climate, waste and recycling, and biodiversity loss. 

However, the government said it will retain the ability to use international carbon credits to achieve the target, rather than relying 100% on domestic measures. It says that using international credits will allow the UK to maximise the value of each pound spent on climate change mitigation.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: ‘As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change. We have made huge progress in growing our economy and the jobs market while slashing emissions. Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.’

The report from the CCC and its adoption by the government have been widely welcomed, not least by the business community. ‘UK business stands squarely behind the government’s commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This legislation is the right response to the global climate crisis, and firms are ready to play their part in combating it,’ said Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director- General of the CBI.

Others stressed the obvious need for many years of unstinting effort required to actually meet the target. Neil Harris, Professor of Atmospheric Informatics at Cranfield University, said: ‘This is a very welcome step by the UK government. The target is rational and achievable and would mean reducing emissions by 3% a year, at their current levels, for the next 30 years.’

While Professor Phil Longhurst, Head of the Centre for Climate and Environmental Protection at Cranfield added: ‘This is an important and achievable target but what we now need is a plan as to how meet this, otherwise there is a danger that the target will be missed. Which technologies are going to be invested in, which behaviours are we going to try and change and what innovations are we going to back?’

There was also criticism. Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: ‘Judging by the headline, this is a legacy Theresa May can be proud of. Judging by the small print, this is a net zero target with a backstop… trying to shift the burden to developing nations through international carbon credits undermines that commitment. This type of offsetting has a history of failure and is not, according to the government’s climate advisors, cost efficient.’

‘This decision fires the starting gun for a fundamental transformation of our economy, added Parr, concluding: ‘It’s now official – in a climate emergency, business as usual is no longer an option.’ 

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