“UK must go zero carbon by 2050,” says government adviser

Written by Rebecca Jones on 2nd May 2019

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which advises the UK government on its environmental and climate policy, has published a report recommending that Britain reduce its net carbon emissions to zero within thirty years.

The CCC says the move will ensure that the UK meets it commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement, when world leaders pledged to keep the rise in global temperatures to just 2 degrees, with an ambition for 1.5 degrees of warming.

The body comments: “This is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change. Global average temperatures have already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our 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.”

Forests, not fossil fuels

On the top level, the committee says achieving net zero emissions will involve the elimination of almost all fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy sources combined with re-forestation in order to offset any residual use.

Among the measures the CCC recommends the UK takes in coming decades are: quadrupling the supply of green electricity; developing carbon capture, storage technology and low-carbon hydrogen – which it describes as a “necessity, not an option” – and making electric vehicles “the only option” by 2035.

It singles out Scotland as having greater potential to remove pollution from its economy, adding the region could credibly go zero carbon by 2045. In contrast it says Wales is less able to meet the target due in large part to its livestock industry. As such, the CCC says Wales should aim for 95 per cent reduction by 2050.

In a 2018 report the CCC recommended that sheep and cattle numbers in the UK should be reduced by at least a fifth doe to their significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The body claimed that a 20 to 50 per cent cut in land used to graze beef and lamb could release up to 7 million hectares of grassland that could be reforested.

Parliament in climate emergency first

The report comes less than 24 hours after the UK parliament declared an ‘environment and climate emergency’, making Britain the first country in the world to do so. Tabled by leader of the opposition Labour party Jeremy Corbyn, the motion has been warmly received worldwide.

Teenage activist and climate action icon Greta Thunberg described the move as a “great first step”, adding: “we cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency.”

Others, however, point to the government’s failure to publish its Green Finance Strategy, which was promised in March 2018 for publication this spring, however is reportedly being delayed due to ongoing debate over how ambitious levels of investment should be.

Ben Nelmes, head of public policy at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, says: “Setting a net zero target for the UK is clearly the right thing to do, but […] getting there will require radical and unprecedented changes in all parts of the economy.

“Ministers must publish an ambitious Green Finance Strategy setting out how they will mobilise billions of pounds of investment in new clean energy, transport, heating and industry, and how they will make sure that people’s investments, savings and pensions are protected from climate-related financial risk.”

Time for “ambitious” green investment

According to a report by Bloomberg, last week businesses and investors urged Prime Minister Theresa May to deliver a far-reaching strategy on time, or else risk the UK losing out on private investment to China, the US or France.

Responding to claims about a delay, the UK Treasury said “an ambitious plan” would be published shortly.

A recent survey by Greenpeace shows that appetite for significant and meaningful government action is strong among the Britons, with 64 per cent say government is responsible for taking action on climate change and more than three quarters of respondents (76 per cent) stating they would vote differently to protect the planet and climate.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, comments: Climate activists, young and old, have put the UK government under enormous pressure to officially recognise the climate emergency we are facing.

“There is a real feeling of hope in the air that after several decades of climate campaigning the message is beginning to sink in. What we need now is to translate that feeling into action.”

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