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Landmark 2050 net zero target would ‘end the UK’s contribution to climate change’

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The UK could end its contribution to global warming by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said, a target which would drive a revolution in the country’s power system.

Today the CCC has published a landmark report establishing its recommendation that the UK government set a target date of 2050 for the country’s economy to transition to ‘Net Zero’ status, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

The 256-page report details precisely how that aim can be realised, and crucially states that such a target could be achieved with technologies already known and within economic costs already accepted by parliament.

However, the report does include a raft of recommendations, most notably a “significant” ramp up of existing policies that will be required for a net zero emission target to be credible, and a potential revisit of the way costs are distributed among consumers and businesses.

The country’s energy sector would also have to undergo a significant transition to support a net zero economy, including an effective quadrupling of low-carbon electricity generation by 2050, bringing forward a future ban on new sales of petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035 or earlier and the development of carbon capture and storage technology.

The energy system itself would almost entirely change from what it looks like today, brought about by an expected doubling of electricity generation capacity needed to meet increased demand.

Current± has discussed how a future, Net Zero-compliant energy system might look based on the CCC’s report here.

Lord Deben, chairman at the CCC, said the changing climate needed a serious response.

“The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part - we explain how in our new report - but it can be done within the cost envelope that parliament has already accepted. The government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay,” he said.

Parliamentary ambition

The publication of the CCC’s recommendation comes at a crucial time for climate policy in the UK. Political appetite to tackle climate issues has been increasing - earlier this week IPPR launched a new commission on the subject with cross-party support - and protests organised by Extinction Rebellion helped thrust the issue onto front pages.

But the CCC’s report makes it clear that while achieving net zero emissions is eminently possible, the target is not credible unless the country’s policy framework is sufficiently ramped-up. This will require existing policies to be more ambitious and for government to finally tackle a lack of progress made in the decarbonisation of heat.

One such policy that will need to be made more ambitious is England’s phase out of conventional-fuelled vehicles. As it stands the country is set to prohibit the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2040, a deadline which has been much derided for not being ambitious enough to secure the deep decarbonisation required in road transport.

The report makes it clear that this date should be brought forward to at least 2035. Speaking at a press conference to discuss the committee’s findings earlier this week however, Chris Stark, chief executive at the CCC, made it clear that 2030 would not only be sufficiently ambitious, but cheaper too.

Political will

While the net zero report comprises highly detailed analyses of how the target could be achieved, perhaps its most critical conclusion is that establishing a net zero economy would be both plausible and within parliament’s already expected price range.

This led Lord Deben to conclude that there is now no excuse for government to shirk the target entirely. “If we don’t do it, it’s because you’ve chosen not to do it,” was his message to politicians during this weeks press conference, adding his view that 2050 in effect remains a “seriously conservative” estimate.

Lord Deben has been a strong critic of government inaction on climate matters in the past. Last October, during the government’s Green Great Britain Week celebration and days after it issued a lacklustre response to the committee’s 2018 progress report, Deben said the government needed a “kick up the backside” and raised the prospect of HMG being taken to court over a projected failure to meet legally binding climate targets, suggesting he may be the first witness for the prosecution.

Speaking to Current± earlier this week about those threats and whether or not the net zero report was the kick the government needed, Lord Deben said it “does not pull any punches” on the need for government to do more.

“The Committee are clear that a net-zero GHG target should only be adopted by government and parliament if they are serious about implementing the much more ambitious and effective policies that will be required. We lay out many of the specifics that may be needed in the report,” he said.

The green economy’s responses to the report have, meanwhile, been collated here.

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