The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has laid out a route to a fully decarbonised UK, in what it is calling a world first.
In its landmark 1,000 page Sixth Carbon Budget, the CCC set out goals for the next three decades that would see the nation hit its net zero target in 2050. These would see emissions fall by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, a significant step up from the last Budget released by the CCC which set that goal for 2050.
The report follows a recent call from the CCC for the UK to reduce territorial emissions by at least 68% as part of its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, a target the UK government committed to the day after.
Significantly, net zero is now expected to cost less than 1% of GDP throughout the next 30 years, down from previous estimates of 1-2%. That’s just a three month loss of GDP over the next 100 months, without taking into account wider economic benefits the transition will bring.
Low carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver net zero, with the bulk from private investment, additionally helping to support the recovery from COVID-19.
The Sixth Carbon Budget – which will run from 2033 to 2037 – can be met through four steps, the first of which is the take up of low-carbon solutions. By the early 2030s all new cars, vans and boiler replacements should be low-carbon, predominantly electric. The report does acknowledge that a small number of vehicles will still be hybrids, but by 2040 all new trucks will also be electric.
Industry will shift to using renewable electricity and hydrogen by this point as well, with carbon capture used where electrification isn’t possible, and the emissions stored safely under the sea.
To enable the take up of low carbon solutions, the CCC secondly advises that the UK’s electricity production should grow by half and be zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind will be the backbone of this, with the CCC supporting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 40GW by 2030 target, which should then expand to 100GW or more by 2050. Electricity demand will grow further to 2050, doubling or even trebling as people switch to electrified transport and heating.
Low-carbon hydrogen will need to scale up significantly by the 2030s, and by 2050 should be almost as large as electricity production is today. It will be used both as a replacement for natural gas for heating, and as fuel for shipping and transport.
Third, the CCC says carbon-intensive activities will need to be reduced, with fewer resources wasted. This will include energy efficiency improvements, with 28 million homes renovated and decarbonised predominantly through insulation as well as changes to diet to cut meat and dairy, and fewer flights.
Finally, transformation in agriculture will be needed, alongside a mass rollout of tree planting and restoration of peatlands.
The Budget is a “clear message to the world that the UK is open for lowcarbon business,” said CCC chairman, Lord Deben.
“It’s ambitious, realistic and affordable. This is the right carbon budget for the UK at the right time. We deliver our recommendations to government with genuine enthusiasm, knowing that Britain’s decisive zero-carbon transition brings real benefits to our people and our businesses while making the fundamental changes necessary to protect our planet.”
The changes outlined are feasible and affordable provided the 2020s are a decisive decade of progress and action according to the CCC, urging that the process must be fair and just as well. There are numerous benefits to low carbon technologies and the transition as a whole, and these must be shared evenly throughout society.
Lord Deben pointed to the increased support for climate commitments around the world, with China, Japan and South Korea among the countries that have committed to net zero.
The UK government now has until next June to respond to the CCC, with pressure mounting for bold action ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.
“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery," said Lord Deben. "Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as President of the next UN climate talks.”